Wrongful death statutes were created so that widows and orphans could ask for financial support from the offending party. This is because in the past, only the victim could file a complaint. In cases where that person dies, the claim dies with the plaintiff.
What is Wrongful Death?
When a person dies due to the negligence or misconduct of another, the surviving family or heirs may sue for “wrongful death” and ask for compensation for pain and suffering, lost financial support, funeral expenses, and other damages.
Although wrongful death statutes vary from state to state, all lawsuits are civil in nature. Because they are not criminal cases, the required burden of proof is lower. A criminal case must establish guilt beyond reasonable doubt but a civil case only requires a preponderance of the evidence.
Who Can Sue for Wrongful Death?
Every state has a set of wrongful death statutes which establishes the procedures for wrongful death claims. In general, those who can sue for wrongful death include:
- A surviving spouse
- Immediate family members
- A personal representative of the estate of the deceased
Wrongful Death Lawsuits after a Criminal Trial
Most wrongful death lawsuits are filed after a criminal trial. Although similar evidence is presented, there is a lower standard of proof in wrongful death suits. Someone found liable for wrongful death may or may not be convicted criminally.
Elements of a Wrongful Death Lawsuit
A wrongful death cause of action must have the following elements present:
- The death of a human being
- Another person’s negligence or intent to cause harm is the proximate cause of the death
- The surviving family members are suffering monetary loss because of the death
- The appointment of a personal representative for the victim’s estate
How to Prove Wrongful Death
The plaintiffs and their attorney must prove four facts in a wrongful death lawsuit:
Negligence. The death was caused (in part or in whole) by negligent actions, recklessness, or carelessness.
Breach of Duty. The defendant owed a duty to the deceased victim. For example, a motorist maintains a duty to follow traffic rules and not drive drunk. Doctors and paramedics have a duty to keep a patient alive.
Causation. The defendant’s negligence caused the death of the victim.
Damages. The death of the victim results in quantifiable damages such as hospitalization, medical expenses, pain and suffering prior to death, funeral and burial costs, loss of potential income, loss of protection, loss of guidance, and loss of inheritance.
Proving all four points in court requires compelling evidence as well as expert witness testimony, in many cases.
Contact DeZao Law Firm and Schedule a Consultation
While a wrongful death lawsuit will not bring back your deceased family member, you still have a right to hold the offending party liable for his or her negligence. No amount of money can compensate for your loss, but receiving proper compensation can go a long way in addressing your financial needs in the meantime.
Contact a wrongful death lawyer today and receive the legal assistance you need to claim what rightfully belongs to your family.