The Burden of Proof in a California Wrongful Death Suit

The Burden of Proof in a California Wrongful Death Suit

california wrongful death suit

Did you know that almost 43,000 people died in car accidents in the United States in 2021? Thousands more died in truck accidents, pedestrian accidents, cycling accidents, or motorbike accidents.

All of these fatalities have something in common. The majority of them take place because of the actions of someone else. Your loved one would not have died if it were not for the negligence of a third party.

If tragedy has struck you and your family and you wish to file a wrongful death suit, you will need to understand what you need to prove your case.

Keep reading to learn more about the burden of proof in a California wrongful death suit.

What Is a Wrongful Death Suit?

wrongful death claim

If a death was preventable and was only caused because of someone else’s misconduct, you can file a wrongful death suit.

This is not a criminal case in which someone is charged with homicide for the death of your loved one. Instead, it is a lawsuit filed in a civil court to force the defendant to pay you compensation for the loss and damages you have suffered.

However, a wrongful death suit may take place at the same time as criminal charges against the person who is accused of recklessness. The civil case will have a lower burden of proof, so it may be more successful.

Losing a loved one can hit a spouse or children hard, financially, mentally, and emotionally. If the deceased was the main provider for the family and had dependents, the situation is even more complex for those left behind.

Damages awarded for wrongful death may cover:

  • Lost financial support
  • Emotional suffering
  • Funeral expenses
  • Punitive damages for intentional recklessness

You may be wondering who can file a wrongful death suit. This depends from state to state. In general, it is spouses and children who can receive damages in a wrongful death suit.

However, in California, the courts may allow parents, siblings, domestic partners, or grandchildren to seek damages. Dependent minors living in the household, other heirs, or a personal representative of the deceased’s estate may also be able to file the suit.

You need to prove that you were dependent on the deceased to have a successful case.

Here are some common examples of road accidents that can lead to a wrongful death lawsuit:

Proving wrongful death is not always an easy task.

What Is the Burden of Proof?

The person who files a wrongful death suit has the responsibility to prove the validity of their claim with facts and evidence. This means that the burden of proof is on the person who initiates the claim.

In a criminal case, the prosecutor needs to show beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant is guilty of the charges brought against them.

However, in a civil case such as a wrongful death suit, you need to convince the jury that your injuries and losses are a direct result of the car accident.

Once you have hired a wrongful death lawyer, they will help you develop a strategy to meet the burden of proof. This can involve gathering witnesses, and evidence such as:

  • Medical records
  • Death certificate
  • Police report
  • Photo or video evidence
  • Physical evidence

This evidence can help show whether or not recklessness and negligence lead to someone’s death. If there is strong evidence that the defendant did not take the appropriate care and thus caused someone’s death, there may be mediation and an early settlement of the claim.

However, if an agreement is not reached, you can file a lawsuit and take the case to trial.


Four Key Elements of a Wrongful Death Suit

When proving wrongful death, there are four key elements that your lawyer will have to show.


The first element to prove is that the death was caused by recklessness, misconduct, or negligence. This can mean that the defendant failed to act carefully in a given situation.

Breach of Duty

You need to show that the defendant owed a duty of care to the deceased. For example, the responsibility to drive safely on a highway, or to carry out the correct procedures during a surgical operation.

The next step is to prove how this duty was breached.

If the defendant was driving drunk, your lawyer would need to prove this via evidence. Similarly, if a defendant was texting while driving, which caused a fatal accident, your lawyer would need to prove this in court.


Proving breach of duty requires directly linking the defendant’s negligence to the death of the victim.

It may be easy to prove that the law was broken in some way or that the defendant was under the influence when driving. However, there still needs to be clear evidence that this caused someone to die.


The final element needed in a wrongful death suit is to show that the death of your relative or loved one caused financial damages. You also need to be able to prove these financial damages.

This may require showing the paystubs of the deceased and proving their financial contribution to the household. This can also indicate future earnings that are now lost.

Evidence of hospitalization and medical expenses will also show the financial blow. It can also indicate how much the victim may have suffered before their death.

You can also provide evidence of funeral and burial costs.

Find a California Wrongful Death Suit Attorney

wrongful death suit

Losing a loved one is a devastating experience, especially if their death was preventable.  A California wrongful death suit can compensate you for some of the financial losses and suffering at this difficult time.

Alpha Accident Attorneys can help you understand the burden of proof and develop a strategy for your case. Contact us to schedule a free consultation today.

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