Wrongful death actions are creatures of statute and in California they are governed by Code of Civil Procedure sections 377.60 – 377.62. Section 377.60 defines who may bring a wrongful death cause of action. Subsection (b) provides that a wrongful death action may be brought by a decedent’s “putative spouse” if he or she was dependent on the decedent. Putative spouse is defined as “the surviving spouse of a void or voidable marriage who is found by the court to have believed in good faith that the marriage to the decedent was valid.” What do the words “believed in good faith” mean? Is the good faith inquiry a purely subjective one, or does the inquiry also require application of an objective test?
In Ceja v. Rudolph & Sletten the Supreme Court determined that good faith belief is to be determined by a subjective standard. The holding: “We conclude section 377.60 contemplates a subjective standard that focuses on the alleged putative spouse’s state of mind to determine whether he or she maintained a genuine and honest belief in the validity of the marriage. Good faith must be judged on a case-by-case basis in light of all the relevant facts, such as the efforts made to create a valid marriage, the alleged putative spouse’s background and experience, and the circumstances surrounding the marriage, including any objective evidence of the marriage’s invalidity. Under this standard, the reasonableness of the claimed belief is a factor properly considered along with all other circumstances in assessing the genuineness of that belief. The good faith inquiry, however, does not call for application of a reasonable person test, and a belief in the validity of a marriage need not be objectively reasonable.”
I consult with clients and accept cases involving personal injury and wrongful death claims. For other types of cases I accept, please scroll my Home and My Practice pages. If you are seeking a legal consultation or representation, please give me a call at 818.971.9409. – Michael Daymude