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Wrongful death claims vs survivors’ actions


Wrongful death claims are not the only action Californians can take when a loved died because another party has been negligent. There is a lesser known method of obtaining damages called survivors’ actions. They are similar, but different.

Depending on your circumstances, you may choose one path or the other to hold the negligent party accountable.

Wrongful death law, explained

A wrongful death in California is a fatality caused by the wrongful actions or neglect of another. This idea is as old as civil law itself – the principle that a person who has been wronged or harmed has the right to sue for compensation. Take away this concept – which is the basis of all tort law – and everyday people have no legal protection against the acts of others.

Wrongful death claims, when they succeed, pay family members left behind in the wake of unjust fatality. Payment can be for “damages” – all the ways in which the person died was or would have continued to be valuable to the family. This ongoing value includes the dollar value of the loved one’s love, care, comfort and society. Funeral and burial costs are also included. Punitive damages are usually not part of a wrongful death claim, but they may be included in cases of reckless behavior.

Survivors’ actions, explained

Survivors’ actions also come down to us from old English law. They constitute a separate way to recover damages when a loved one dies due to negligence.

Survivors’ actions arise not from surviving family members, but from the estate of the person who died. The interests and intentions of the loved one are at stake. In a sense, the deceased person is still in charge of the action. Financial damages in survivors’ actions can include the pain and suffering the decedent experienced, plus any wages or earnings from the moment of injury through to the moment of death.

This may not seem like a significant difference, just another example of the complexity and overlap of these ancient legal concepts.

But you will quickly see the difference if you lose someone you love, and that person’s will or trust includes provisions for survivors’ actions. It is an area where personal injury law, which governs wrongful death claims, and estate law, which governs wills and trusts, can come into conflict.

Questions? Call Ellis Helm, APC

In either case, you want to work with a lawyer who understands these complexities and protects your family’s interests at every stage. We at Ellis Helm, APC, are always happy to explain these distinctions and lay out the best options for you.