Losing a loved one is always difficult. Grieving is hard, even when a loved one’s death was expected. If you’ve lost someone close to you in an accident, however, you’re going through a uniquely painful experience. Not only have you lost someone before their time, but you also have to live with the knowledge that their loss wasn’t necessary. That’s why wrongful death lawsuits exist.
What Is Wrongful Death?
Wrongful death claims are civil lawsuits that the survivors of a deceased person can file. These claims can be filed against individuals or entities who may have acted negligently or maliciously and caused the deceased’s death. If the court finds the defendant guilty, they order the defendant to pay monetary damages for the deceased’s loss, including the loss of their financial and emotional support for the survivors.
For a wrongful death lawsuit to succeed, the plaintiff needs to prove four things:
- That a person died
- That this death was caused by someone else’s negligence or intent to cause harm
- That the deceased’s surviving family members are suffering monetary loss as a result of the death
- That a personal representative for the decedent’s estate has been appointed
If these four elements are proven, then the defendant should be found liable .
What Is The Difference Between Murder and Wrongful Death?
First off, murder is a criminal matter and is decided in criminal courts while wrongful death lawsuits are civil cases. For example, murder and manslaughter are criminal charges that can be pressed by the state. A criminal charge for causing someone’s death can lead to severe penalties, including years in prison and significant fines. However, the burden of proof for a criminal charge is quite high – it must be shown that the accused person was responsible for the death “beyond a reasonable doubt.” In cases where a corporation was responsible for a death or evidence is not entirely conclusive, criminal charges may not lead to a conviction.
That’s why civil cases occur. A deceased person’s loved ones can sue a corporation or individual for “wrongful death” if they believe that death resulted from negligence or malice. The burden of proof in civil cases is lower; the plaintiff must provide a “preponderance of evidence,” or show that their claim is more likely to be true than false.
Both a criminal and a civil case can proceed at the same time for the same death, and a wrongful death lawsuit can determine that the accused is liable even if the criminal case doesn’t lead to a conviction. The most famous example of this
What Counts as Wrongful Death?
Wrongful death is relatively vague and for a good reason. This type of lawsuit is intended to cover a wide variety of potential circumstances. If someone else’s action or inaction causes a person’s death, and it could have been avoided by taking a reasonable amount of care, then that person’s death was “wrongful.” The person or entity who acted negligently can be found liable for the death, and the deceased’s survivors have grounds to sue.
Examples of wrongful death are diverse. Common wrongful death lawsuits include deaths caused by:
- Dangerous premises, including poorly-maintained properties or unmarked dangers
- Negligent or intoxicated drivers
- Medical neglect or malpractice
- Defective or faulty products
Wrongful Death in the Justice System
Two less well-known but still important types of wrongful death are common in the justice system. First, people are becoming more aware of their right to file wrongful death claims against the police. National news has made cases of police killing civilians more public than ever before. With the rise of filmed police encounters, it’s more likely than ever that enough evidence will exist in a given case to demonstrate that a police shooting was unnecessary and the death wrongful.
One recent California case focused on wrongful death caused by police in Santa Barbara. In this case, the family is suing for the wrongful death of two people. The plaintiffs accused the police of negligence for failing to provide medical attention and senseless shooting.
Meanwhile, people in the justice system can also fall victim to wrongful death. People spending time in jail or prison are at the mercy of the staff in many ways. Some California prisons and county jails have a track record of inmate deaths that could have been prevented. Poorly trained or neglectful guards, poor-quality healthcare, and a lack of options lead many inmates to suffer unnecessarily and even die.
How to File a Wrongful Death Suit
Only certain people can file a wrongful death lawsuit. These people include the deceased’s:
- Children or stepchildren
- Domestic partner
- Non-family heirs
If you decide that a wrongful death lawsuit is something you want to file, then it’s essential to go about it correctly. As with any critical suit, your first step should be to reach out to a qualified attorney. Their experience will be vital when it comes to building a case that will support your claim.
The attorney will be invaluable in determining whether you have grounds for a lawsuit. They can also help you decide what types of damages should be claimed, such as expenses related to medical bills, lost income, burial costs, or companionship. Most importantly, they can help you navigate the legal system, so you don’t have to face it alone during one of the worst times in your life.
Even if a case has been tried in criminal courts without leading to a conviction, it’s still possible to hold people accountable for wrongful deaths. This is an essential tool for the loved ones of people who have fallen victim to negligence, especially institutional or corporate negligence. If you have lost a loved one to wrongful death, you shouldn’t hesitate to reach out for legal help. Your loved one deserves justice, and those responsible for their death should be held responsible.