No legal case is as harrowing as a wrongful death lawsuit. In California, the process is as complex as it is crucial, and can have life-changing implications for the beneficiaries involved. But who are these beneficiaries?


Understanding this question is more than a matter of legal technicality — it’s about ensuring those who are entitled to justice are not denied it by lack of knowledge or representation. Here’s a comprehensive guide to the key players when you file a wrongful death claim and the roles they play.



Understanding California Wrongful Death Laws

beneficiaries in a california wrongful death

When an individual’s life is mistakenly taken by the actions — or inactions — of another, it constitutes a wrongful death. Under California law, surviving family members of the deceased can bring a civil lawsuit against the responsible party for monetary damages. 


The California wrongful death statute is distinct for several reasons. First, it defines who can legally bring a wrongful death action. Second, it dictates the types of damages that can be pursued in a personal injury case, which includes compensation for both economic and non-economic losses.

Defining Wrongful Death in California

Under California Code of Civil Procedure Section 377.60, a wrongful death claim arises when a person’s death is caused by “the wrongful act or neglect of another.”


The statute specifically clarifies that wrongful death is not limited to intentional acts and can include any form of negligence or misconduct.

Key Points of the California Wrongful Death Statute

The statute outlines that the deceased’s personal representative must bring the wrongful death action. This is typically a person or entity named in the decedent’s will or appointed by the court. Damages that can be claimed include:

  • Funeral and burial expenses
  • The value of household services the decedent would have provided
  • The value of financial support the beneficiaries would have received
  • Loss of companionship, love, moral support, and assistance

California law is clear about the objective of wrongful death damages — to compensate families for their losses rather than provide a windfall.

Who Can Be Beneficiaries in a California Wrongful Death Lawsuit?

Who gets the money in a wrongful death lawsuit? The beneficiaries in a California wrongful death lawsuit are divided into two categories: primary and secondary.

Immediate Family Members as Primary Beneficiaries

The primary beneficiaries include the spouse, domestic partner, and children of the deceased. These individuals are presumed to have suffered the most significant loss and can claim damages for both economic and non-economic losses.

Secondary Beneficiaries and Their Rights

If there is no surviving spouse, partner, or child, or if they choose to waive their right to file a wrongful death lawsuit, the right to sue passes to the deceased’s next of kin. This can include the parents of the deceased or anyone else who can show they were financially dependent on the deceased. In the case of a stepchild or legally adopted child, they may also have the right to file a wrongful death claim.


It’s important to note that secondary beneficiaries in a California wrongful death may not be entitled to the same amount of damages as primary beneficiaries. They would be entitled to recover only the economic losses, such as loss of financial support from the deceased. Non-economic damages, such as loss of companionship or emotional distress, may only be awarded to primary beneficiaries.


Can the beneficiary be an entity? Yes, in certain cases. If the deceased did not have any surviving family members or dependents, the right to sue may pass to a designated beneficiary or the estate of the deceased. In this situation, the compensation awarded would go towards paying off any outstanding debts or other expenses related to the deceased’s death.

role of legal professionals in a wrongful death case

Handling a California wrongful death case without legal guidance can be overwhelming, especially for those who are simultaneously grieving the loss of a loved one.

How Attorneys Help Identify and Protect Beneficiaries' Rights

A skilled wrongful death attorney can help identify all beneficiaries in a wrongful death lawsuit. This can involve complex family relationships and legal definitions of domestic partnerships and financial dependency.

The legal process of a wrongful death suit is intricate and must be followed meticulously. This includes filing the appropriate documents, gathering evidence to support the claim, and negotiating settlements or presenting the case in trial.

Statute of Limitations in California

The statute of limitations is two years from the date of death, but certain factors such as government involvement or delayed discovery may extend this deadline.

Case Studies and Examples of Wrongful Death Claims

Real-life cases are often the best way to understand the impact of wrongful death lawsuits and the rights of the beneficiaries involved.

Examples of Beneficiaries in Different Wrongful Death Cases

In one instance, a young family lost their primary breadwinner in a workplace accident. The spouse and children brought a wrongful death claim and were awarded significant compensation for their financial losses and mental anguish.


In another case, an elderly individual lost their life due to medical malpractice. The adult children were entitled to damages, which also considered the loss of parental guidance and support they would have received.


One more example involves a fatal car accident caused by a drunk driver. The victim’s parents and siblings filed a wrongful death lawsuit and were awarded damages for their loss of companionship and financial contributions.


Note that each state has its own laws regarding wrongful death lawsuits and who is eligible to file a claim. Speaking to a wrongful death lawyer should be the first step.

Outcomes and Settlements for a Wrongful Death Claim in California

Wrongful death cases may result in negotiated settlements or court-ordered judgments. These can range from a few hundred thousand dollars to multi-million dollar awards, depending on the circumstances and the losses suffered by the beneficiaries.

$150 million win from a California wrongful death case

In the tragic case of Kylie Asam, who, at the age of 9, survived a devastating freeway accident on Interstate 210 in Southern California. Her family’s SUV collided with an 18-wheeler parked on the shoulder without its lights illuminated. While Kylie and her brother Blaine escaped the burning vehicle, they were unable to save their parents from the fire. Tragically, Blaine later took his own life.


After three days of deliberation, a jury found the truck driver, Rudolph Ortiz, negligent for parking without proper lighting or emergency reflectors, awarding Kylie more than $150 million in damages for the irreversible impact on her life.

$36 million in a motorcycle crash that led to death

In another example, a jury awarded $36 million in a wrongful death lawsuit involving the parents of a 26-year-old motorcyclist. The case was vigorously contested, with the defense asserting that the young man was speeding, under the influence of methamphetamine, and solely at fault for the accident that led to his death.


Despite these claims, the jury concluded that there were other factors at play and ultimately sided with the grieving parents, granting them full justice for the loss of their son.

Grieving Families' Rights and Support

The legal aspect of wrongful death is just one piece of the puzzle. Families who have lost a loved one under such tragic circumstances require emotional support and understanding that goes beyond financial compensation.

Resources for Grieving Families

Numerous resources and support groups exist to help families cope with their loss and the legal process. These can provide both practical assistance and a supportive community for those dealing with similar situations.

Understanding the Emotional and Financial Support Available

These include the California Victim Compensation Board, which provides financial assistance for crime-related expenses such as funeral costs and counseling services. The Mental Health Service Act also funds mental health services for individuals and families affected by crime.

A wrongful death lawsuit is a powerful tool for families to seek justice and financial recompense for their loss. By understanding who gets the money in a wrongful death lawsuit and their rights under California law, the path to closure and compensation becomes clearer. Nevertheless, seeking legal counsel is crucial in ensuring that these rights are fully and effectively pursued.


For those who are in the midst of this challenging process or who foresee the need for such legal action, reach out to a reputable and experienced wrongful death attorney who can see the case through.


Remember, the statute of limitations for filing a wrongful death lawsuit in California is two years from the date of the deceased person’s death, so time is of the essence. Beneficiaries in a California wrongful death lawsuit should immediately seek legal representation.


Call RTM Law Firm at (949) 2874342 to get a free case review.




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