“Clearly, the person who sustained personal injury as a proximate result of the wrongful act of another can recover compensatory damages on his or her own behalf. If the injured party is a minor (under age 18) and not emancipated (Fam.C. § 7000 et seq.), or is mentally incompetent (unable to comprehend attorney’s advice or to appreciate nature of the litigation), the claim must be prosecuted through a guardian, guardian ad litem or conservator of the estate, as the case may be. However, the cause of action belongs to the injured minor or incompetent for detriment that party suffered; recoverable damages are simply awarded to the named representative (guardian, etc.) on the minor’s or incompetent’s behalf.
Injury to one person might also occasion a compensable loss or detriment to that person’s spouse, registered domestic partner (Fam.C. § 297) or other close relatives. In such cases, these persons may become claimants on their own behalf, entitled to damages separate and apart from that of the physically injured party. When an injury is so severe that it interferes with the injured party’s family relations, the affected family members might suffer a very real “detriment.” California law therefore recognizes the right of the injured party’s spouse or registered domestic partner.
If the victim dies before final adjudication of the claim, his or her injury cause of action generally “survives” to the estate and may be prosecuted by a duly appointed executor or administrator for the estate. All decedent’s pecuniary damages incurred prior to death (e.g., medical expenses and lost earnings), as well as punitive damages, are recoverable; but the estate generally is not entitled to an award for decedent’s pain, suffering or disfigurement.
[California Practice Guide: Personal Injury [certain citations omitted]]