Average Wrongful Death Settlement in California [2024 Updated]

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If you have suffered a loss due to a wrongful death incident, it is understandable to wonder what the average wrongful death settlement in California is. While there are several figures and numbers available online that claim to be an average in your area, it is generally not advisable to base your expectations on these figures. Each wrongful death case is highly unique and individual. 

Average Wrongful Death Settlement in California

Dealing With a Wrongful Death Case

Wrongful death situations are highly devastating and impactful for surviving loved ones. While legal action may be the last thing on your mind while mourning your loss, it is vital to act promptly. In California, surviving loved ones have up to two years to pursue a claim after their loved ones pass due to the wrongful death statute of limitations. If individuals seek legal action after this timeframe, their case may be rejected, and justice will not be reached.

Factors That Impact Wrongful Death Settlements in California

There are several factors that can impact a wrongful death settlement in California. Although each case is unique and individual, there are common categories that are examined in order to determine a settlement amount that fairly covers and compensates the loss an individual pursuing a claim has endured. Below is a list of these categories:

  • Economic Damages: Economic damages are often the obvious and quantifiable losses beneficiaries have endured due to the wrongful death of their loved one. These include expenses like medical bills, funeral and burial expenses, loss of benefits, loss of the deceased individual’s future earnings, loss of inheritance, and more.
  • Non-Economic Damages: Non-economic losses are, at times, challenging to calculate, as they involve all of the intangible losses suffered by the decedent’s beneficiaries. This can include pain and suffering, mental anguish, emotional distress, loss of companionship, loss of enjoyment of life, and more.
  • Punitive Damages: Punitive damages are meant to punish the defendant if the actions that contributed to the wrongful death were particularly egregious or reckless. These damages are intended to dissuade others from engaging in pertinent behaviors.

Who Is Eligible to File a Wrongful Death Claim in California?

In California, there is a set priority list of the individuals who are eligible to file a wrongful death claim. The first priority goes to the decedent’s surviving spouse, domestic partner, children, and children of any deceased child of the decedent. 

If there are no surviving individuals within the first priority group, the second priority falls to individuals who would be entitled to inherit from the descendant’s property as if they had died without a will. This group generally consists of the descendant’s siblings and parents. 

Finally, the third priority group includes the decedent’s stepchildren, legal guardians (if parents are no longer living), and putative spouses. 

Examples of Wrongful Death Cases

It is a sad but true reality that wrongful death law is needed in our courts. There are thousands of individuals who pass due to a wrongful death situation each year. Below are common causes of wrongful death:
  • Auto Accidents: Auto accidents make up a large majority of wrongful death cases. The causes of these accidents include speeding, distracted driving, reckless driving, DUI, and more.
  • Medical Malpractice: Medical malpractice occurs when a medical provider fails to uphold their duty of care to their patient, and their intentional, negligent, or reckless action or inaction leads to their patient’s ultimate death. This happens due to misdiagnosis, delayed diagnosis, emergency room negligence, surgical errors, medication errors, and more.
  • Workplace Accidents: Deadly accidents can happen in the workplace due to carelessness and negligence, unsafe and dangerous work conditions, occupational hazards, and more.
  • Defective Products: Product defects and malfunctions occur and can result in wrongful death. Manufacturers can be held responsible for these deaths.
  • Intentional Killings: Wrongful death can happen in intentional violent situations such as shootings and stabbings. In the event of criminal activity leading to death, the accused can be tried both in criminal and civil court contexts.


Q: Is There a Maximum Amount for Wrongful Death Settlements in California?

A: There are normally no caps on wrongful death damages in California, except in the case of medical malpractice. Wrongful death claims are highly individualized, with each case requiring a different settlement amount that considers all the facts of the case. Settlements are determined by various factors such as negligence, pain and suffering, loss of companionship, funeral costs, lost wages and benefits, and more.

Q: Do You Have to Pay Taxes on a Wrongful Death Settlement in California?

A: In California, you do not have to pay taxes on most wrongful death settlements. However, certain cases award punitive damages, which may be taxable in specific situations. In general, the IRS does not consider wrongful death settlements taxable income, but speaking with an attorney can help you determine if any part of your settlement is taxable.

Q: How Do You Divide a Wrongful Death Settlement in California?

A: You can divide a wrongful death settlement in California in several ways, including dividing equally among all beneficiaries, dividing damages with a larger portion to those who were impacted more, and other arrangements. There are times when the distribution of a wrongful death claim is contested, and in this case, it is essential to see the support of a wrongful death attorney.

Q: How Are Wrongful Death Settlements Calculated?

A: Wrongful death settlements are calculated by considering several factors, such as economic, non-economic, and punitive damages. Economic damages include items like loss of income, medical bills, funeral costs, lost insurance coverage, and more. Non-economic losses include pain and suffering, emotional distress, loss of companionship, and more. Punitive damages are awarded if an individual’s death was caused by especially egregious behavior.

Contact a Wrongful Death Attorney in California Today

If you have unfortunately suffered the loss of a loved one due to a wrongful death situation, you may have the grounds for a legal claim to pursue justice and recover some of the damages you have endured. Kreeger Law Firm is here to provide trusted legal support and advocacy as you proceed with a claim. Contact our office today to set up a consultation and learn how we can help you at this time.