The extreme pain and suffering felt when you lose a loved one too soon can be compounded by the fact that the death was the result of someone else’s negligence. Filing a wrongful death claim can help to bring some financial peace to your household, especially if your deceased loved one was the primary breadwinner. It can also provide a way to hold the responsible party accountable for their negligent conduct, even if it is only through monetary means.
How a Wrongful Death Case is Different from a Criminal Case
A wrongful death case is a civil action which seeks justice after an avoidable death of a loved one has occurred. The party in a wrongful death case seeks money damages to compensate the family of the deceased when a third party’s negligent conduct caused the wrongful death. This type of civil case is different from criminal case. A criminal cases seek to punish the wrongdoer, usually with imprisonment. Monetary damages are not awarded to the family left behind in a criminal trial.
In criminal court, the accused must be proven guilty using the highest legal standard – that is, that the accused must be proven guilty of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt. In civil court, a preponderance of the evidence standard is used. This requires the plaintiff to prove that it is more likely than not that the defendant was responsible for the deceased’s passing.
In some cases, criminal charges may be made against the responsible party (e.g. manslaughter or DUI); however, a criminal case is not a prerequisite for a wrongful death case
How to Prove Your Wrongful Death Case
In order to have a successful wrongful death case, the party bringing the lawsuit will have to prove that the defendant was negligent and that the negligence caused your loved one’s death. In some cases, proof that the defendant acted intentionally, engaged in gross misconduct or deviated from a recognized standard of care will support a civil wrongful death action.
In all negligence cases, including one for wrongful death, key legal elements must be proven. These include (1) proof that the defendant owed a duty of care to the person harmed; (2) that the defendant breached their duty of care to the person harmed; (3) that the conduct of the defendant caused the harm suffered by the victim of the defendant’s conduct; and, (4) that the victim, or in the case of wrongful death, the family, sustained damage as a result of the defendant’s conduct.
In a typical auto accident case which results in injury or death, the plaintiff would have to show that (1) the at-fault driver had a duty to obey the traffic laws, for example to stop at a red light; (2) that the at-fault driver breached that duty when he or she ran a red light; (3) that the defendant crashed into the plaintiff’s vehicle because he or she ran the red light; and (4) that the plaintiff sustained injury or was fatally injured as a result of the crash.