Every wrongful death case is different in California. This makes it impossible to say what an average settlement amount would be for one. There is no “average” case. Some settle for only a few thousand dollars. Others, however, can lead to settlements of well over a million dollars. There are numerous factors that will affect the outcome.
What is a wrongful death settlement supposed to cover?
In California, wrongful death claims aim to recover compensation for the deceased victim’s loved ones. This includes:
- the financial support that you would have received from the victim,
- burial expenses,
- funeral expenses, and
- loss of consortium, such as the loss of love, companionship, and emotional support that the victim would have given to you.
The settlement in a wrongful death claim generally aims to match what a jury would have given you for these losses, had the case gone to trial.
By establishing an attorney-client relationship with a personal injury attorney, you can maximize the amount of money you recover in a wrongful death action.
What factors can influence a wrongful death settlement amount?
There are lots of factors that will impact the settlement amount in a wrongful death claim. Some will increase the value of your case. Others will decrease it. Small variations in many of these factors can drastically alter what you are likely to receive.
There are also several factors that California juries are not allowed to consider. Whether they actually consider them or not is hard to tell.
Finally, there are damage caps that limit what you can receive in certain cases.
Factors that tend to increase the value of your case
There are numerous factors that can increase the expected settlement value of a wrongful death case. Some of them are:
- the deceased victim was young,
- the victim was a part of a large family or had numerous legal dependents,
- the victim’s children or other dependents are young,
- whether the victim’s spouse was financially reliant on the victim,
- you were likely to expect a significant amount of gifts or inheritances from the victim,
- the circumstances of the victim’s death were particularly bad,
- the victim had an important role in the community, and/or
- the victim’s moral character.
All of these can increase the financial support that you lost or the loss of consortium that you have suffered.
Factors that tend to decrease it
It can decrease your expected settlement amount if the victim:
- was relatively old or was retired,
- had a small family,
- was isolated from the community,
- had a criminal history, and/or
- was partially to blame for the accident that killed them.
Additionally, low insurance policy limits on the defendant’s coverage can keep plaintiffs from recovering the payout they deserve in a wrongful death lawsuit settlement.
Factors that juries cannot consider
Many states forbid juries from considering certain factors when awarding compensation in a wrongful death case. In California, those factors are:
- your own grief, sorrow, or mental anguish,
- the deceased victim’s pain and suffering, and
- either your financial health or the victim’s.
Because these factors are not supposed to influence the jury, they will not be considered in settlement negotiations.
Some states have damage caps for wrongful death cases. These limit how much you can recover.
- physical pain,
- mental anguish,
- emotional suffering and distress, and
- loss of companionship and consortium.
In 2023, compensation for these losses are capped at $500,000 in California. The cap will increase by $50,000 annually until it reaches $1,000,000 in 2033.
Because the only non-economic damages you can recover in a wrongful death case are for your loss of consortium, this cap tends not to influence a wrongful death settlement.
Can recent cases be used to show an average wrongful death settlement?
Looking at other wrongful death cases has limited value in determining what an average settlement would look like. Most wrongful death settlements are confidential.
For example, some recent settlements that made the news in California include:
- $10,000,000 for a fatal car accident caused by an off-duty police officer (Dominguez v. City of San Diego),
- $5,300,000 for a death caused by excessive use of force by police (Sommers v. City of Santa Clara, et al.),
- $5,000,000 for a fatal pedestrian knockdown in a commercial truck accident (Harder, et al. v. Golden State Portables, et al.), and
- $3,000,000 for a fatal exposure to Legionnaire’s Disease in a hotel (Winfield v. YTLife Investments, LLC, et al.).
However, large settlements are probably more likely to make the news than smaller ones. This can make it seem like they all settle for high amounts.
What is a wrongful death lawsuit?
A wrongful death claim is a personal injury lawsuit brought by a deceased victims’ loved ones. These claims provide a legal process for the victim’s surviving family members to recover financial compensation to cover their loss.
Who can file a wrongful death case?
In California, wrongful death lawsuits can be filed by the deceased person’s:
- surviving spouse or domestic partner,
- grandchildren, or
- other descendants or financial dependents, as defined by California’s wrongful death statute.
The beneficiaries who have standing to file a wrongful death claim may be slightly different under other states’ wrongful death laws.
A personal injury lawyer can explain what your rights are in your state.
What is the difference between wrongful death and survival claims in California?
Survival actions are personal injury claims filed by the deceased victim’s estate. They aim to recover the compensation that the victim would have recovered, had he or she survived the accident. This includes compensation to cover the victim’s:
It can also include punitive damages.
For survival actions filed between 2022 and 2025, it also includes compensation for the victim’s pain and suffering and disfigurement.
Survival actions pursue different types of damages than wrongful death lawsuits. They are also filed by different people. However, while they focus on the economic losses of different people, they are frequently filed alongside one another.
What is the statute of limitations for a wrongful death suit?
In California, the statute of limitations for wrongful death claims is 2 years from the date of the decedent’s death.
How can a personal injury or wrongful death lawyer help me?
A wrongful death attorney from a reputable law firm can gather evidence supporting your case. They can also negotiate with the defendant’s insurance company on your behalf. An attorney’s legal advice can help you decide whether to accept a settlement offer. This can help you recover the compensation that you deserve.
 California Code of Civil Procedure 377.60 CCP.
 California Civil Jury Instructions (CACI) No. 3921.
 CACI No. 3921.
 Assembly Bill 35 (2022).
 California Code of Civil Procedure 377.60 CCP.
 California Code of Civil Procedure 377.30 CCP.