Wrongful Death Lawsuit Payouts in California and Nevada


When someone loses their life due to another party’s negligence, recklessness, or malice, a wrongful death lawsuit could help loved ones move forward. A wrongful death lawsuit payout helps recoup financial losses while often providing a sense of justice. Each state has its own rules on who can file this type of lawsuit and why, resulting in the need for help from an experienced wrongful death lawyer. Here’s what you need to know about filing a wrongful death lawsuit in California and Nevada.

Table of Contents:

Chances of Winning a Wrongful Death Suit

As with all legal matters, every wrongful death case is 100% unique. So, it’s impossible to predict the odds of winning the lawsuit and getting awarded full compensation for the wrongful death damages.

Overall, the courts require that the claim covers these four points:

  • Duty: An obligation to act like a reasonable person would in the same situation
  • Breach: A violation of the duty to act in a reasonable manner
  • Causation: The breach of duty resulted in the loss of life
  • Damages: The wrongful death resulted in economic and non-economic damages

A seasoned lawyer will hit on all these four points while showing that the other party’s actions caused your family member to lose their life. In addition, they’ll present evidence and witness testimony backing up the claims to help bolster the case even more.

What is a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?

A wrongful death lawsuit allows you to seek compensation from the party responsible for your loved one’s untimely death. The wrongful death lawsuit payout covers the economic and non-economic damages that occurred due to the loss of your family member.

To fight for a payout, you must make your claims through the applicable civil court system and then prove your case. Overall, it’s ideal to work with an experienced lawyer who will help you build a solid case and bring all the evidence you need to prove your claims.

Wrongful Death Examples

The most common events that result in a wrongful death lawsuit in California and Nevada include:

  • Physical assaults
  • DUI car crashes
  • Reckless driving collisions
  • On-the-job accidents
  • Medical malpractice
  • Negligent supervision
  • Defective products
  • Accidental poisoning
  • Slip and fall incidents

Pedestrian and bicycle accidents may result in a wrongful death lawsuit payout as well.

There’s no set criteria on exactly which types of events open up the ability to file a claim. No matter what incident occurs, you just have to prove that the responsible party breached their duty, causing your family member to lose their life.

Who Can File a Wrongful Death Suit?

Only immediate family members can file a lawsuit for wrongful death. Since someone must bring the case to court, the deceased person obviously cannot file their own claim. Instead, the courts have established exactly who might have the right to file this type of case in civil court.

In California, surviving family members, like a spouse, domestic partner, or children, have two years to file the claim [1]. Parents can pursue the case as well but only if they were dependent on their loved one. If there are no surviving family members, only the individual deemed entitled to the estate by intestate succession can file the case in court.

The laws in Nevada allow all surviving family members, including parents, to file a wrongful death claim [2]. If there are no family members to handle the matter, the personal representative, or executor, of the estate would need to move forward with the case. All eligible parties must file the case within two years of the date on the death certificate.

What are the Damages That Can Be Recovered in Case of Death?

When you lose a loved one, the insurmountable losses can feel overwhelming. The fact that the situation occurred due to the malice, negligence, or recklessness of another person only adds to your pain and suffering.

In order to ease your burdens, the courts aim to quantify your losses through the award of both economic and non-economic damages [3]. Although nothing can ever bring back your family member, getting a wrongful death lawsuit payout can help you find a way forward.

Economic Damages

When calculating the payout, civil courts first look at the economic damages caused by the loss of your family member. These figures typically get calculated by a financial expert to accurately quantify all of your current and future losses.

Economic damages may include:

  • Total amount of all medical bills resulting from the accident
  • Funeral and burial expenses, including casket or urn
  • The overall loss of financial support from your family member
  • Total amount of the inheritance your loved one would have left

The economic damages add up to create a payout that compensates you for actual financial losses resulting from the death of your loved one. They are completely objective figures, making it easy for qualified experts to quantify them for the courts.

Non-Economic Damages

Non-economic damages are much trickier since they’re a subjective measure of your loss. The courts have to attach a dollar figure to the damages to fully quantify the impact on your family.

The types of losses they may consider include:

  • Pain and suffering, or the emotional anguish you feel from losing your loved one
  • The overall loss of emotional support you would have had from your family member
  • A lifelong loss of guidance and instruction that would have otherwise been given

In some cases, it’s possible for each family member directly impacted by the loss to receive their own compensation for pain and suffering.

Civil courts in most states will also consider punitive damages when truly malicious or reckless actions cause your family member’s death. These damages further punish the person responsible for the fatal injuries, but the payout goes to the person filing the lawsuit.

About Getting a Wrongful Death Lawsuit Payout

Are you considering seeking a wrongful death lawsuit payout through California or Nevada courts? Here are some things you need to know.

How Much Can You Sue for a Wrongful Death?

Wrongful death lawsuits have resulted in multi-million dollar payouts and compensation totaling far below the million-dollar mark.  

Since every case is different, there’s no set amount that you can sue for in a wrongful death lawsuit [4]. The total amount you get depends on the economic and non-economic damage calculations.

Factors that may come into play include:

  • Age and overall health of the victim
  • Their annual income
  • Future investment growth
  • Related medical bills
  • Burial and funeral costs
  • Pain and suffering of all involved
  • Loss of care and companionship

The figure does not represent the worth of your loved one, however. Instead, the process attempts to recoup your financial losses and hold the at-fault party accountable for their actions.

Wrongful Death Settlements

High-profile wrongful death lawsuits often land in the news as each stage of the trial commences. In the end, the wrongful death settlement amounts may end up confidential to protect the surviving family members. Still, following those cases can give you a good idea of what to expect as the case evolves.

Wrongful Death Suit Kobe

In January 2020, a helicopter crash took the life of NBA legend Kobe Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, and seven of their fellow passengers. According to the National Transportation Safety Board, the helicopter pilot breached his duty to fly the aircraft in a safe and reasonable manner [5].

In light of that information, the victims’ surviving family members joined together to file a wrongful death suit just one month later. About 1.5 years later, all the plaintiffs decided to settle for an undisclosed amount, likely totaling in the $100+ million range.

Bill Paxton Wrongful Death Lawsuit

In 2017, actor Bill Paxton underwent heart surgery at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center to repair an aortic valve and remove an aortic aneurysm. Afterward, his condition continued to get worse, resulting in a fatal stroke just 10 days later.

When it came out that the surgeon used unconventional, high-risk methods to perform the procedure, Paxton’s family members filed a wrongful death suit. After four years in court, they ended up settling for $1 million, although the General Anesthesia Specialists Partnership denied direct responsibility for the death [6].

Highest Wrongful Death Payout

In 2014, food truck owner Olga Galdamez refilled her propane tanks at a U-Haul subsidiary, resulting in an explosion that killed her and her daughter, Jaylin. They were given faulty, outdated equipment without safety valves, which allowed the gases inside the tanks to expand until they violently exploded.

Three plaintiffs filed wrongful death suits against U-Haul due to the negligent actions of their employees. The case resulted in the largest settlement ever on record, totaling just over $160 million across all three parties [7].   

How Much is a Wrongful Death Lawsuit Worth?

There is no upper limit when it comes to how much a wrongful death lawsuit is worth. The highest the courts have awarded thus far is $160 million, but there is no real reason future cases couldn’t exceed that figure. The amount awarded just depends on what economic and non-economic damages occurred due to the death of a loved one.

Is a Wrongful Death Settlement Taxable?

Each state sets its own rules on what’s taxable or not. In California and Nevada, wrongful death lawsuit payouts are typically not taxable. The exception is if you get punitive damages added to the total. Then, only that portion may end up getting taxed.

Punitive Damages in Wrongful Death Cases

Punitive damages add to the total compensation package, but they’re not based on the surviving family members’ losses. Instead, they’re assessed to punish the responsible party for their deadly actions. The family members do receive the funds, however. As with all other court matters, state law determines how punitive damages get handled.

In California, for example, individuals generally cannot seek punitive damages except in cases of felony homicide or if the family files a survival action claim [8]. For the latter, the survival action claim allows the family to recover damages relating to the victim’s pre-death pain and suffering or disfigurement. Then, they can seek punitive damages as well.

In Nevada, on the other hand, punitive damages are on the table if the responsible party acted in a malicious or reckless manner. A cap applies to the resulting award amount, however [9]. If the total award lands under $100,000, then punitive damages can total $300,000 or less. For cases worth more than $100,000, the cap is three times the amount of the calculated damages.

CACI Wrongful Death Damages

CACI, or California Civil Instructions, wrongful death damages start with economic damages, like medical bills, funeral expenses, and lost wages. When calculating future damages, it’s necessary to use the present cash value, negating the impact of inflation or other unpredictable factors.

Non-economic damages then add to the total by quantifying the loss of care, comfort, and companionship. Pain and suffering doesn’t come into play unless your family decides to make a survival action claim. By taking that route, it’s possible to add punitive damages as well.

Who Gets the Money in a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?

Generally, the surviving family members get the money in a wrongful death lawsuit. You can file this type of case after losing your spouse, child, or parents in an incident caused by a neglectful, reckless, or malicious person. In some cases, it’s possible for the executor of the estate to sue for damages, resulting in the wrongful death lawsuit payout going to the estate.

Wrongful Death Settlement Distribution

When there’s only one person suffering the loss, the distribution of the wrongful death settlement is easy. It just goes to the named plaintiff and no one else. When multiple family members join in on the case, they’re tasked with deciding how to best divide the payout.

Oftentimes, the spouse gets the biggest portion of the payout while surviving children or parents divide up the rest. But if all parties cannot agree on how to proceed, the court will divide the settlement up evenly across all eligible family members.

Who Pays in a Wrongful Death Suit?

The person liable for your family member’s death must pay the amount awarded by the courts. Sometimes, their insurance company will cover all or part of the payment if the incident qualifies as a claim. If not, they may need to sell their assets or set up installment payments until the balance is paid in full.

Wrongful Death Damages California

You can seek wrongful death damages in California after losing a loved one due to the intentional, reckless, or intentional acts of another person. You just have to file a wrongful death lawsuit in civil court within two years of the death to start the process. A lawyer can help you learn about what you might expect from a payout, although it’s impossible to fully predict what damages the court might award.

Nevada Wrongful Death Damages

Nevada also lets you seek damages if a family member dies due to the wrongful actions of another party. You must file your civil case within two years of the death to abide by the state’s statute of limitations. As far as what level of payout you can expect, there’s no way to truly know, but a lawyer can help you understand the possible outcomes.

Frequently Asked Questions About Wrongful Death

How is wrongful death defined?

A wrongful death is defined as an untimely death caused by the malicious, negligent, or reckless actions of another person. More than one person could be deemed at fault for the wrongful death. In some cases, it’s even possible to hold an entire company or other entity responsible for the loss of your loved one.

What’s the difference between wrongful death and accidental death?

A wrongful death occurs due to the negligent, malicious, or reckless actions of another party. In the end, the tragedy could have likely been prevented if the responsible party was acting in a reasonable manner. Accidental deaths, on the other hand, occur without anyone to blame and likely couldn’t have truly been prevented.

How are wrongful death proceeds divided in California?

When multiple family members file a wrongful death lawsuit in California, they’re usually given the freedom to decide how to divide up the proceeds. If they cannot come to an agreement, the courts will usually divide up the payout evenly, depending on the specifics of the case.

Who are the heirs for wrongful death in California?

When a wrongful death case goes through the court in California, the children are deemed the heirs. If the person who died did not have any children, then their spouse is the sole heir. If they weren’t married, their surviving parents end up as the heirs.

What is the statute of limitations for wrongful death in Nevada?

The statute of limitations for wrongful death damages in Nevada is two years. The clock starts ticking as soon as death occurs. So, you must seek representation from a lawyer right away to learn about all your options. If you wait too long, you won’t be able to file your case in court and seek compensation for damages.

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By submitting this form, you agree to receive telephone calls and text messages at anytime, which include hours outside of business hours (8:00 a.m. PST - 9:00 p.m. PST). This is so that we may reach you as soon as possible in order to consult on your potential case.