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How Long Does It Take For A Wrongful Death Lawsuit?

Posted by Siamak Vaziri | Mar 15, 2024 | 0 Comments

Grasping the timeline of a wrongful death lawsuit in California is extremely important to victims, but, due to the nature of these types of lawsuits, is very difficult to do. When tragedy strikes, understanding this process becomes more than just legal jargon; it's about finding closure and accountability. The journey from filing to resolution is layered with complexities, each case weaving its own unique path through investigations, negotiations, and possibly trials. 

hourglass signifying time in a wrongful death lawsuit

Table of Contents:

Understanding Wrongful Death Lawsuits in California

When a loved one dies due to someone else's negligence or wrongful act, it's devastating. The grief is overwhelming. And on top of that, you're left with piles of bills and a future without your loved one's support. But there is a way to seek justice and compensation for your loss. It's called a wrongful death lawsuit. In California, certain family members have the right to file a wrongful death claim against the person or entity responsible for their loved one's death. A wrongful death lawsuit is a civil action. It seeks to hold the defendant liable for causing someone's death through negligence, recklessness, or intentional harm. The goal is to recover damages for the survivors' loss, such as lost income, lost companionship, and funeral expenses. It's different from a criminal case, where the state prosecutes the defendant and seeks jail time. In a wrongful death case, the family brings the lawsuit and seeks monetary compensation.

Who Can File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit in California?

In California, the following people can bring a wrongful death lawsuit:

  • Surviving spouse or domestic partner
  • Surviving children
  • Grandchildren (if the deceased person's children are also deceased)
  • Other minor children who were dependent on the deceased for at least 50% of their financial support
  • Parents, if they were dependent on the deceased
  • Siblings, if they were dependent on the deceased
  • Anyone else who would be entitled to the deceased person's property under California's intestate succession laws

Damages Available in a Wrongful Death Lawsuit

The damages available in a wrongful death case fall into two main categories: economic and non-economic. Economic damages have a specific dollar value, such as:

  • Funeral and burial expenses
  • Medical bills related to the deceased person's final injury or illness
  • Lost income, including future income the deceased would have earned

Non-economic damages are more subjective, such as:

  • Loss of love, companionship, comfort, care, assistance, protection, affection, society, and moral support
  • Loss of training and guidance (for surviving children)
  • Loss of sexual relations (for surviving spouse)

In some rare cases, punitive damages may also be awarded if the defendant's conduct was particularly egregious.

Factors Influencing the Wrongful Death Lawsuit Timeline

The timeline of a wrongful death lawsuit can vary significantly. Some cases settle in a matter of months, while others may drag on for years. Let's look at some of the key factors that influence how long a wrongful death case takes.

Complexity of the Case

The more complex the case, the longer it typically takes to resolve. Factors that can complicate a wrongful death case include:

  • Multiple defendants
  • Unclear liability
  • Unique or technical issues (like in medical malpractice cases)

In a straightforward case with clear liability and a single defendant, the timeline may be shorter. But when there are multiple parties, disputed facts, or complex legal issues involved, the case will take longer as the parties work through the issues.

Investigation Process

A thorough investigation is crucial to building a strong wrongful death case. But investigations take time. Your legal team may need to:

  • Gather and review medical records
  • Interview witnesses
  • Consult with experts
  • Reconstruct the accident (if applicable)
  • Collect and analyze physical evidence

The more extensive the investigation, the longer the process will take. But a comprehensive investigation is essential to get you the best possible outcome.

Legal Procedures and Filings

The legal process itself takes time. Even if your case doesn't go to trial, there are still many steps involved:

  1. Filing the initial complaint
  2. Serving the defendant
  3. Waiting for the defendant's response
  4. Engaging in discovery (exchanging information with the other side)
  5. Filing and responding to motions
  6. Attending hearings and conferences with the judge

Each of these steps has its own timeline and deadlines that can extend the overall process. Most wrongful death cases end in settlement, not a trial. But reaching a settlement can be a lengthy process of back-and-forth negotiations. The two sides may be far apart in their initial offers. It can take multiple rounds of counteroffers and discussions to reach a middle ground. The complexity of the case and the willingness of both sides to compromise will impact how long settlement negotiations take.

Trial Preparation and Court Schedules

If your case does go to trial, the timeline can extend significantly. Preparing for trial is an intensive process that includes:

  • Finalizing witness lists
  • Preparing exhibits
  • Taking depositions
  • Filing motions
  • Attending pretrial conferences

Once your case is ready for trial, you're at the mercy of the court's schedule. The court may not have availability for months, especially if the trial is expected to be lengthy.

Average Timeline for a Wrongful Death Lawsuit in California

So, how long does a wrongful death lawsuit take in California? The answer is, it depends. Every case is unique, and many factors can impact the timeline. On the short end, a straightforward wrongful death case could settle in as little as a few months. But most cases take between one and four years to resolve. And if a case goes to trial, it can take even longer. According to one study, the average timeline for a wrongful death case is about 18 months. But that's just an average - some cases resolve much faster, while others take several years. The best way to get a sense of how long your specific case may take is to consult with an experienced wrongful death attorney. They can evaluate the unique factors in your case and give you a more personalized timeline.

Damages in a Wrongful Death Lawsuit

One of the primary purposes of a wrongful death lawsuit is to recover damages for the losses suffered by the deceased person's family members. Let's take a closer look at the types of damages available.

Economic Damages

Economic damages are the quantifiable financial losses resulting from the wrongful death. They include things like:

  • Medical expenses related to the deceased person's final injury or illness
  • Funeral and burial expenses
  • Lost income, including future income the deceased would have earned
  • Loss of benefits, such as health insurance or pension plans
  • Value of household services the deceased provided

These damages can be calculated based on bills, receipts, pay stubs, tax returns, and other financial documents.

Non-Economic Damages

Non-economic damages are the intangible losses suffered by the family. They don't have a clear dollar value but are still significant losses. Non-economic damages may include:

  • Loss of love, companionship, comfort, care, assistance, protection, affection, society, and moral support
  • Loss of training and guidance (for surviving children)
  • Loss of sexual relations (for surviving spouse)

These damages can be more challenging to quantify but are often the most substantial part of a wrongful death award.

Punitive Damages

In rare cases, punitive damages may also be available in a wrongful death lawsuit. Punitive damages are designed to punish the defendant for particularly egregious conduct and deter similar behavior in the future. Punitive damages are not awarded for mere negligence. The defendant's actions must be intentional, malicious, or reckless. An example might be a drunk driver who causes a fatal accident. Punitive damages can significantly increase the total award in a wrongful death case. But they are not available in every case and are awarded at the discretion of the judge or jury.

The Role of Insurance Companies in Wrongful Death Claims

In many wrongful death cases, an insurance company will be involved on the defendant's side. This could be an auto insurance company in a car accident case, a homeowner's insurance company in a premises liability case, or a medical malpractice insurance carrier in a healthcare-related case. Insurance companies play a significant role in how a wrongful death case unfolds. Let's look at a couple of key things to keep in mind when dealing with insurance companies. When an insurance company is involved, they will often make an initial settlement offer soon after the wrongful death occurs. This offer may be tempting, especially if you're facing financial strain after losing a loved one. But beware - initial offers from insurance companies are often lowball offers. They're designed to get you to settle quickly and cheaply. Remember, insurance companies are businesses. Their goal is to pay out as little as possible. They're not looking out for your best interests. That's why it's crucial to have an experienced wrongful death attorney on your side. Your attorney can evaluate any settlement offers and advise you on whether they're fair. In many cases, your attorney can negotiate a significantly higher settlement by presenting evidence of your damages and losses.

Steps to Take When Dealing with Unresponsive or Unreasonable Adjusters

Sometimes, insurance adjusters can be difficult to deal with. They may be unresponsive, drag their feet, or make unreasonable demands. This can be incredibly frustrating when you're trying to resolve a claim and move forward with your life. If you find yourself dealing with an unresponsive or unreasonable adjuster, here are some steps you can take:

  1. Keep detailed records of all communications, including dates, times, and what was discussed.
  2. Send follow-up emails or letters confirming any conversations or agreements.
  3. Set reasonable deadlines for responses and decisions.
  4. Be persistent but professional in your communications.
  5. Escalate the issue to a supervisor if necessary.
  6. Consider filing a complaint with the California Department of Insurance if the adjuster's behavior is particularly egregious.

Remember, you don't have to deal with the insurance company alone. Your wrongful death attorney can handle these communications and negotiations on your behalf, taking the stress off your shoulders.

Seeking Justice for a Wrongful Death in California

Losing a loved one is never easy. But when that loss is caused by someone else's negligence or wrongdoing, it can be especially devastating. You may feel angry, helpless, and overwhelmed. Filing a wrongful death lawsuit can be an important step in seeking justice and holding the responsible party accountable. But the legal process can be complex and daunting, especially when you're grieving. Here are a couple of key things to keep in mind as you consider a wrongful death claim. First, it's important to be aware of the statute of limitations for wrongful death claims in California. The statute of limitations is the deadline for filing a lawsuit. In California, the statute of limitations for wrongful death claims is generally two years from the date of death. If you don't file your lawsuit within this two-year window, you may be barred from recovering any compensation. There are some exceptions to this rule. For example, if the wrongful death was caused by medical malpractice, you may have three years from the date of the injury or one year from the date you discovered the injury, whichever comes first. But in most cases, the two-year deadline applies. That's why it's crucial to consult with a wrongful death attorney as soon as possible after your loved one's death. They can ensure your claim is filed within the appropriate timeframe.

Importance of Hiring an Experienced Wrongful Death Attorney

Navigating a wrongful death claim can be complex and emotionally challenging. There are legal deadlines to meet, evidence to gather, damages to calculate, and negotiations to handle. That's why it's so important to have an experienced wrongful death attorney on your side. Your attorney can handle all the legal details and fight for your rights, allowing you to focus on grieving and healing. When looking for a wrongful death attorney, consider their:

  • Experience handling wrongful death cases
  • Track record of success
  • Knowledge of the local courts and judges
  • Communication and responsiveness
  • Compassion and understanding

Your attorney should be someone you feel comfortable with and confident in. They should keep you informed at every stage of the process and be responsive to your questions and concerns. Remember, you don't have to navigate this difficult time alone. An experienced wrongful death attorney can be your advocate and guide, helping you seek the justice and compensation you deserve.

Key Takeaway: 

Dealing with the loss of a loved one is hard enough without worrying about legal matters. But, filing a wrongful death lawsuit in California can help you get justice and financial support for your future. From knowing who can file to understanding potential damages and dealing with insurance companies, it's clear this process varies greatly in length—typically taking anywhere from a few months to several years. To navigate these challenging waters effectively, getting help from an experienced attorney early on is key.


Those who have lost their loved ones can contact us for help. At the Vaziri Law Group, our firm has helped families recover over $1 Billion in compensation for their losses. We're here to help with a free consultation with no obligation to retain our services. We have a 98% success rate and over 100 5-star reviews. Obtain help today from our caring staff through phone, chat, or form.

About the Author

Siamak Vaziri

Attorney Siamak Vaziri’s mission is to help make his clients whole by obtaining maximum physical, emotional, and financial recovery. Mr. Vaziri’s clients' needs come first, evidenced by his 98% success rate, more than $1 Billion in client settlements and verdicts, as well as 100+ 5-star reviews. Mr. Vaziri invests every resource to nurture his client and partner relationships and does so with integrity and a relentless work ethic.


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