Wrongful death attorney sitting with client

California Amends Wrongful Death Legislation

California has temporarily changed the types of money damages available in wrongful death cases. The amendment applies to all existing wrongful death cases for which the plaintiff filed a motion for trial preference, as well as all wrongful death cases filed between January 1, 2022, and January 1, 2026. 

A California wrongful death attorney can explain to you how California’s amendments to wrongful death legislation could affect your wrongful death claim.

The Previous Wrongful Death Law in California

For many years, Californians had the right to file a wrongful death claim or lawsuit seeking money damages from the at-fault party whose wrongful act caused the death of another person. The personal representative of the deceased person’s estate could pursue a wrongful death action if the decedent would have had the right to file a personal injury claim had they survived their injuries. 

The estate could recover its economic losses for the medical bills from the final illness or injury and a reasonable amount of compensation for the funeral and burial. The legal beneficiaries could recover money damages for things like loss of the income and services of the deceased person, loss of the affection and companionship of the decedent, loss of the guidance and protection of the deceased person, and the emotional suffering of the survivors. 

A wrongful act, for purposes of a wrongful death claim, could be from negligent conduct, like medical malpractice or a car accident caused by a drunk driver. An intentional act could also be the basis of a wrongful death claim, for example, an assault or a robbery that causes a loss of life. Wrongful death claims generally require that the decedent’s death was the result of someone else’s wrongful conduct.

What the New Law Changes

The amendments to the California wrongful death laws will allow the plaintiffs to recover compensation for the pain, suffering, or disfigurement their close relative experienced between the injury and death. Before this change to California law, the obligation of the defendant to pay for disfiguring or inflicting physical pain or emotional distress on the victim died with the victim.

On the other hand, if the victim survived the injuries, the at-fault party could be responsible for the victim’s suffering, pain, and disfigurement in a personal injury lawsuit. The modifications to California’s wrongful death laws hold people who kill others through negligence or intentional acts accountable for how much the victim suffers before they succumb to the injuries. 

Will the Amendments Be Temporary or Permanent?

The California Judicial Council will evaluate the impact the new legislation has on wrongful death cases by analyzing all of the judgments, consent judgments, or court-approved settlement agreements in these lawsuits for the first three years. The Judicial Council will make a report to the California legislature by January 1, 2025. If the legislature makes the amendments permanent, the changes will no longer be temporary. If the legislature does not take such action, the changes will sunset on January 1, 2026. If your close relative died because of someone else’s careless or intentional act, you will want to talk to a California personal injury attorney as soon as possible. The filing deadlines are shorter than you might think. Don’t waste any time getting it right, get in touch with our office today for legal help.