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March 8, 2024

Chances of Winning a Wrongful Death Lawsuit in California

Legally reviewed by: Jessica Anvar Stotz, JD, MBA

Short answer: According to the most recent data we could find from Jury Verdict Research (1), they found that plaintiffs in California won approximately 58% of the wrongful death cases that went to trial. This data was compiled by looking at wrongful death verdicts in California from 2010 to 2019.

Generally, If liability is established, chances are you will win your wrongful death suit. Below we’ll detail more California wrongful death statistics.

Additional Wrongful Death Case Outcome Statistics

  • According to a study conducted by the U.S. Department of Justice (2), plaintiffs in wrongful death cases have a higher success rate than in other personal injury cases. The study found that plaintiffs won approximately 61% of wrongful death trials, compared to a 51% success rate in other personal injury trials.
  • A report by the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) analyzed civil trial data from the nation’s 75 largest counties (3). The report found that in wrongful death cases tried in these counties, plaintiffs were awarded damages in 63% of cases.
  • According to data from the Judicial Council of California (4), in fiscal year 2020-2021, wrongful death cases had a higher percentage of plaintiffs’ verdicts (58%) compared to other personal injury cases (48%).
  • A study by VerdictSearch (5), a legal research company, analyzed wrongful death verdicts in California from 2015 to 2020. They found that the median award in cases where the plaintiff won was $2.3 million.

Wrongful Death Case Evaluator

Use our online wrongful death case evaluator below to see if you might have a potential wrongful death case in Califronia. Get an answer in as quick as 90 seconds.

Example Scenarios Where People Won Their Wrongful Death Lawsuit & Did Not

These are fictitious examples to help you understand if you may or may not have a potential wrongful death case.

Scenario #1

A semi-truck driver failed to brake in time and rear-ended a car on the highway, killing the driver instantly. The deceased’s spouse filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the trucking company.

Evidence presented included the truck’s black box data showing the driver did not apply the brakes, surveillance footage of the accident, and expert testimony demonstrating the truck driver was fatigued and driving recklessly.

The plaintiff also provided evidence of the deceased’s income and emotional losses. The jury found the trucking company liable for negligent hiring, training, and supervision, awarding substantial damages for wrongful death.

Scenario #2

A pedestrian was struck and killed by a car while crossing the street at night in an area with poor lighting. The deceased’s family filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the driver, alleging negligence.

However, evidence presented showed the pedestrian unexpectedly entered the roadway from between parked cars, leaving the driver little time to react. Additionally, toxicology reports indicated the pedestrian had a high blood alcohol level.

The driver’s statement and dashcam footage corroborated that they were driving at the speed limit and not distracted. With a lack of evidence demonstrating the driver’s negligence and the pedestrian’s own negligence contributing to the accident, the court ruled in favor of the driver, dismissing the wrongful death claim.

Common Hurdles Faced in Wrongful Death Lawsuits

  • Proving Negligence: In a wrongful death case, the plaintiff must prove that the defendant’s negligence directly caused the death. Establishing negligence can be challenging, especially if the circumstances surrounding the incident are unclear or disputed.
  • Establishing Causation: The plaintiff must demonstrate a direct causal link between the defendant’s actions (or inactions) and the death. This can be difficult, particularly in cases involving complex medical issues or multiple potential contributing factors.
  • Lack of Evidence: Wrongful death cases often rely heavily on evidence, such as eyewitness accounts, expert testimony, and physical evidence. If crucial evidence is missing, damaged, or inadmissible, it can weaken the plaintiff’s case significantly.
  • Statute of Limitations: Each state has a specific statute of limitations for filing wrongful death lawsuits. If the plaintiff misses the deadline, their case may be dismissed, regardless of its merits.
  • Contributory Negligence: The defendant may argue that the deceased’s own negligence contributed to the fatal incident, which could reduce or eliminate the plaintiff’s ability to recover damages.

Strategies for Overcoming Challenges

  • Thorough Investigation: Conducting a comprehensive investigation into the incident, gathering all relevant evidence, and identifying potential witnesses early on can strengthen the plaintiff’s case.
  • Expert Testimony: Engaging qualified experts to analyze the evidence, provide opinions, and testify can be crucial in establishing negligence, causation, and damages.
  • Comprehensive Documentation: Maintaining meticulous records, including medical reports, employment records, financial documents, and correspondence, can support the plaintiff’s claims and damages.
  • Effective Presentation of Evidence: Skillfully organizing and presenting evidence in a clear and compelling manner can significantly impact the persuasiveness of the plaintiff’s case.
  • Anticipating and Countering Defenses: Identifying and addressing potential defenses proactively can help mitigate their impact and increase the chances of success.

Potential Complications During the Legal Process

  • Disputes over Damages: Determining the appropriate amount of damages, including economic and non-economic losses, can be contentious and may require extensive negotiations or litigation.
  • Jurisdictional Issues: Disputes may arise over which court or jurisdiction has the authority to hear the case, particularly if the incident occurred in a different state or involved parties from multiple jurisdictions.
  • Involvement of Multiple Parties: Cases involving multiple defendants or third-party claims can become complex, with disputes over liability and potential conflicts of interest.
  • Complex Liability Determinations: In some cases, determining liability can be challenging, particularly when multiple parties are involved or when the circumstances surrounding the incident are unclear.
  • Prolonged Litigation and Appeals: Wrongful death cases can be lengthy and emotionally draining, with the potential for appeals and additional legal proceedings, which can prolong the resolution and increase costs.

How Attorneys Can Help Your Case

Hiring an experienced wrongful death attorney can significantly boost your chances of winning a wrongful death lawsuit. Attorneys possess specialized legal knowledge, investigative resources, and courtroom advocacy skills crucial for navigating complex California laws and procedures.

Their expertise in gathering evidence, securing expert witnesses, negotiating settlements, and presenting compelling arguments level the playing field against well-funded opponents.

Additionally, attorneys provide objective guidance and emotional support during this challenging process, which can help with rational decision-making. With their access to legal resources and ability to handle appeals, they can increase the likelihood of achieving a favorable outcome.

Connect with our Wrongful Death Attorneys

Losing a loved one is never easy. If you have questions about a loved one’s recent passing or are looking to pursue justice, contact us any time. We connect people just like you with some of the best wrongful death attorneys in California. All initial consultations are free.


  1. Jury Verdict Research. (2020, February 13). California wrongful death case results, 2010-2019.
  2. U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics. (2005). Tort cases in large counties.
  3. U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics. (2004). Civil trial cases and verdicts in large counties, 2001.
  4. Judicial Council of California. (2022). 2022 court statistics report: Statewide caseload trends.
  5. VerdictSearch. (n.d.). California wrongful death verdicts.
About the Author

Jessica Anvar

California Consumer Litigation Attorney Jessica Anvar, Esq. is the Founder and Managing Partner of Lemon Law Experts California’s leading lemon law firm. She has multiple years’ worth of experience working with both state and federal lemon laws. Her practice focuses exclusively on consumer protection cases. Ms. Anvar received her J.D. from Loyola Law School. She also earned a Master of Business Administration degree from Loyola Marymount University. Jessica is very active in her local legal community and has helped thousands of clients across the state of California. She has an outstanding record as a true advocate for consumers.

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