What Are the Main Differences Between a Wrongful Death and Survival Action?

starting your legal career career in law

In California, the legal system provides two distinct avenues through which family members and the decedent’s estate can seek justice and compensation after a person’s untimely death due to another party’s wrongful act. These avenues are known as “wrongful death” and “survival action” lawsuits. While they may seem similar at first glance, they have critical differences in their aims, the parties involved, and the types of damages awarded.

Defining Wrongful Death

A wrongful death claim is a civil lawsuit filed by the surviving family members of a deceased person who died due to the negligence, reckless, or intentional actions of another party. This type of legal action seeks compensation for the survivors’ own losses due to the victim’s death.

Who Can File for a Wrongful Death Claim in California?

According to the Oakland wrongful death attorneys at Milanfar Law firm, the following relatives are typically eligible to file a wrongful death claim: 

  • Spouse or domestic partner
  • Children 
  • Grandchildren, if the deceased person’s children are also deceased 
  • Other minor dependents, such as stepchildren, who were financially dependent on the deceased

If none of these parties exist, another person who would be entitled to the decedent’s property under California’s laws of intestate succession can file the claim.

Types of Recoverable Damages

Damages awarded in a wrongful death lawsuit are intended to compensate for losses experienced by the surviving family members. These may include: 

  • Funeral and burial expenses 
  • Loss of financial support 
  • Loss of companionship and emotional support 
  • Loss of household services 
  • Medical bills incurred before death (if applicable)

The primary focus of a wrongful death claim is on the emotional and financial impact the death has had on the surviving family members.

Defining Survival Action

A survival action is a lawsuit filed by the estate of the deceased person. It essentially “survives” the decedent and includes claims that the decedent could have pursued if they had lived. These claims focus on the wrongs suffered by the deceased person before their death.

Who Can File for a Survival Action Claim in California?

A survival action is brought by the personal representative of the decedent’s estate, which could be an executor named in the will or an administrator appointed by the court if there is no will. This representative acts on behalf of the estate and any beneficiaries.

Types of Recoverable Damages

Damages awarded in a survival action are meant to compensate for the injuries and suffering experienced by the deceased person before their death. These include: 

  • Medical expenses incurred before death 
  • Lost wages from the time of injury to death 
  • Property damage 
  • Pain and suffering experienced by the deceased before death

It is important to note that under California law, recovery for pain and suffering is only possible in survival actions that were filed before January 1, 2022, based on legislation deadlines. This limitation, however, may be subject to legislative updates.

The focus of a survival action is on the harm done to the deceased person, rather than the emotional and financial losses experienced by family members.

Understanding these differences is crucial for those navigating the legal complexities following a loved one’s death due to another’s wrongful act. Families may be eligible to file both kinds of claims, and doing so can provide comprehensive compensation for their loss. It is always advisable to consult with a knowledgeable attorney who can offer guidance specific to individual circumstances.