What Is the Difference Between Wrongful Death and Survival Action in California?

Wrongful death vs survival action

When a loved one loses their life due to the negligent actions of another, surviving family members often wonder what legal options they have.

During your research, you may come across two solutions, either a wrongful death claim or a survival action.

However, these case types aren’t the same and don’t apply to all scenarios. So, what are the differences between a wrongful death vs. survival action?

Here are the main factors that set each case type apart.

Wrongful Death vs. Survival Action in California: How They Differ

The California Code of Civil Procedure § 377.60 defines wrongful death as “a cause of action for the death of a person caused by the wrongful act or neglect of another.”

Essentially, it is a claim brought by a personal representative of the decedent on behalf of the surviving family members.

This personal representative may be a variety of individuals, including but not limited to the:

  • Executor of the will,
  • Spouse,
  • Domestic partner,
  • Children,
  • Putative spouse,
  • Stepchildren,
  • Parents, or
  • Legal guardians.

Basically, any party that fits into one of these categories and who financially relied on the deceased person (decedent) before their death may bring an action. 

In contrast, a survival action is a claim that the decedent could have filed if they had lived.

This usually involves a personal injury claim.

However, instead of the personal representative filing a claim on behalf of the surviving family—as in a wrongful death case—they file it on behalf of the decedent in a survival action.

This is a subtle but important difference when it comes to survival action vs. wrongful death.

As such, there are a few key distinctions between the two case types when it comes to damages and the timing of the decedent’s death.


Perhaps the most notable difference between wrongful death and survival actions is the available damages.

In wrongful death cases, the personal representative may seek compensation for the losses of the family.

Some examples of these damages include:

  • Funeral and burial expenses,
  • Loss of love and companionship,
  • Loss of services and benefits, and
  • Loss of consortium for the spouse.

Under survival actions, the personal representative cannot pursue these damages.

Instead, they may claim compensation for economic losses that the decedent sustained in their accident before their death.

For example, if the deceased had the option of filing a car accident claim but died during treatment, the personal representative might pursue medical treatment costs, vehicle repair or replacement, and more. 

Time of Death

Another factor in wrongful death vs. survival action is the time of death.

Generally, a survival action doesn’t apply in cases where the decedent passed away immediately after sustaining injuries.

However, it’s important to note that you can bring both a wrongful death claim and a survival action in certain circumstances.

Dealing with the Loss of a Loved One? Starpoint, LC Is Here for You

Losing a loved one to another’s negligence is a very traumatic experience. However, you don’t have to go through it alone.

At Starpoint LC, Attorneys at Law, our lawyers understand what’s at stake for families who relied on their deceased loved one for physical, emotional, and financial support.

With proven results and extensive legal experience, we approach every claim with the goal of providing personalized service.

To schedule a free consultation with a California wrongful death attorney, contact us today.

Author Photo

Aidin Ghavimi

Aidin is a partner at Starpoint LC, Attorneys at Law, and focuses on personal injury and employment law cases in and around Southern California. He earned his Juris Doctorate from the Loyola School of Law and his Bachelor’s from USC. Aidin’s primary goal is to bring justice to his clients and to ensure they are able to move on with their lives after a serious injury.

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