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Wrongful-death claims

A wrongful-death claim arises out of an officer’s negligence or “wrongful act.”  Cal. Civ. Proc. Code § 377.60.  The “wrongful act” could be a violation of the victim’s Fourth-Amendment or other constitutional right. The following survivors may bring a wrongful-death claim:

  1. The decedent’s surviving spouse, domestic partner, children, and issue of deceased children, or, if there is no surviving issue of the decedent, the persons, including the surviving spouse or domestic partner, who would be entitled to the property of the decedent by intestate succession.
  2. Whether or not qualified under subdivision (a), if they were dependent on the decedent, the putative spouse, children of the putative spouse, stepchildren, or parents. As used in this subdivision, “putative spouse” means the surviving spouse of a void or voidable marriage who is found by the court to have believed in good faith that the marriage to the decedent was valid.
  3. A minor, whether or not qualified under subdivision (a) or (b), if, at the time of the decedent’s death, the minor resided for the previous 180 days in the decedent’s household and was dependent on the decedent for one-half or more of the minor’s support.

Cal. Civ Proc. Code § 377.60(a)-(c). 

Wrongful-death claims allow damages both to make up for the harms and losses suffered by the victim’s survivors and to deter the kind of conduct that wrongfully takes another’s life.  Damages available for wrongful-death claims include the benefits that the survivors could reasonably have expected to receive from the victim had he or she lived, including:

  • loss of financial support.  Carr v. Pac. Tel. Co., 26 Cal. App. 3d 537, 545 (1972).
  • loss of services–such as chores.  McKinney v. Cal. Portland Cement Co., 96 Cal. App. 4th 1214, 1228 (2002).
  • loss of comfort, society, protection, companionship and consortium.  Krouse v. Graham, 19 Cal. 3d 59, 67 (1977).
  • funeral and burial expenses.  Sparks-Mundo Eng’r Co., 43 Cal. 2d 1, 10-11 (1954).

A wrongful-death claim cannot provide damages for:

  • the decedent’s medical expenses incurred before death.  Gallup v. Sparks-Mundo Eng’r Co., 43 Cal. 2d 1, 10-11 (1954).  (But such medical expenses may be recovered in a survival action.  Cal. Civ. Code § 377.34.)  
  • the survivor’s own grief, mental suffering, sorrow, anguish, or sad emotions.  Krouse, 19 Cal. 3d at 70.
  • punitive damages.  Tarasoff v. Regents of Univ. of Cal., 17 Cal. 3d 425, 450 (1976).