In some circumstances, people in California who are injured in an auto accident due to another person’s negligent actions may be entitled to compensation. But what happens when that victim dies as a result of the auto accident? The victim, also known as the decedent, may not be around to fight any legal battles against the negligent party, but fortunately California law allows a select class of people to step in and act on the decedent’s behalf in the lawsuit after a car accident.
It is important to first distinguish who may be eligible to act on a decedent’s behalf in a wrongful death lawsuit. California’s Code of Civil Procedure defines this group primarily as the immediate family of the decedent, which would include a spouse or domestic partner, any children or if the children are no longer alive, any surviving grandchildren. If the decedent has no children, then anybody who would be eligible to inherit from the decedent under California intestate succession laws may also act on the decedent’s behalf in a wrongful death suit. Intestate succession laws are in place to deal with circumstances in which a person dies without a will. In general, intestate succession starts with the closest level of kinship, but moves outwards to more distant family if such closer family members do not exist.
But there are also exceptions that allow other non-related people to act in a wrongful death suit. Generally, people who simply lived with the decedent are not eligible. For example, only domestic partners who are registered by law in a domestic partnership may be eligible. However, there are exceptions for putative spouses — those who truly believed they were married to the decedent, even though their marriage wasn’t legally valid.
Putative spouses and minors who were dependent on the decedent for monetary or other support shouldn’t be left without a remedy, which is why California law also provides a broader exception for dependent persons. As this shows, determining who can bring a wrongful death suit can be nuanced. However, it is possible for the decedent’s loved ones to be compensated for their loss.
Source: California Code of Civil Procedure, §377.60, Accessed Oct. 12, 2014