Wrongful death is termed as a death caused by negligence or misconduct on the part of another. The law allows survivors to seek damages. Wrongful death is an avoidable tragedy that would not have happened but for the negligence of the other. If the defendant acted with intent to cause harm, then the defendant may face criminal – as well as civil – proceedings. The civil suit is filed to recover damages and monetary loss suffered by the plaintiffs. It is very different from the criminal charges that will be filed against the same defendant under criminal law.
A wrongful death can leave behind shattered families and lost dreams. The loss of a person can also mean loss of a spouse, father, son, or friend. If you or someone you know has lost a loved one due to the negligence of another, you have every right to make a wrongful death claim.
Wrongful death cases are governed by a set of statutes that establishes the time limits for filing the suit, qualifications of plaintiffs, and conditions essential to prove wrongful death.
If you are planning to sue for damages caused by the wrongful death of a loved one, here are a few things you must know.
1. Are You Qualified to File a Wrongful Death Suit?
Wrongful death claims are to compensate survivors for the loss suffered by the death of their loved one. It is not aimed to compensate a victim of negligence or misconduct for injuries or loss suffered.
The statute clearly defines who can file for wrongful death claim. The person bringing a lawsuit is called plaintiff, and in wrongful death cases, the plaintiffs typically are close family members of the deceased person.
Surviving spouse, children, parents, and executor of the deceased person’s will (if a will exists) can file wrongful death claim. If the death involves medical malpractice leading to loss of an unborn child, parents of the deceased fetus can make a wrongful death claim.
If the deceased person died with a will, the court will appoint an executor for the will who will file a claim on behalf of heirs. The damages that are approved by the jury belong to the estate and will be distributed to heirs in accordance with the will.
2. What Establishes Wrongful Death?
The plaintiff must establish several elements to prove that wrongful death took place. Negligence on the part of defendant, definite causal link with the untimely death of the deceased, personal loss and monetary injury to surviving family/dear ones, and the appointment of a personal representative for the estate of the deceased are some of the conditions necessary to win damages for wrongful death.
To prove the negligence of the defendant, your wrongful death lawyer must be able to show breach of duty of care on the part of the defendant which directly caused the wrongful and untimely death.
3. Breach of Duty of Care
Duty of care is the reasonable care every person should exercise under normal circumstances to prevent injury or loss to another. Drivers owe a duty of care toward other motorists and pedestrians to drive with reasonable care to avoid injury. In the same manner, the owner and/or supervisor of a factory owes a duty of care toward employees to ensure that they are not involved in dangerous activities, or are properly trained before being assigned potentially dangerous jobs.
If the deceased was hit by a speeding or drunk driver, there is clearly a breach of duty of care on the part of the reckless defendant. If a warehouse employee died as a result of poorly maintained equipment, the business owner and/or supervisor can be held liable for wrongful death.
Defendants can also be held liable if their intentional actions lead to the death. For example, if the defendant stabbed another person or shoots him or her, this likely establishes intent to cause harm, injury, or even death.
Another element that the prosecution needs to prove is that the breach of duty on the part of the defendant directly caused the wrongful death.
If the speeding car hit the victim and caused injury, but he died of an underlying and pre-existing health condition, then the defendant is not liable and there is no wrongful death claim. If the defense lawyer can prove that the warehouse employee did not exercise the level of caution he should have while operating the equipment and the injury and death was not solely because of the faulty equipment, then there is no ground for wrongful death claim.
The causal factor is one of the most important pre-conditions to prove wrongful death. If the negligence or intentional action on the part of the defendant did not directly cause the death, then it will not be possible to win wrongful death damages.
5. Burden of Proof
The burden of proof in wrongful death lawsuits rest on the plaintiff. The plaintiff has to prove the existence of negligence and causal link by a ‘preponderance of the evidence.’ Juries determine whether it is ‘more likely than not’ that the actions on the defendant’s part caused the wrongful death.
The burden of proof in wrongful death civil case is much lower than in criminal case where the plaintiff has to prove ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’ the defendant’s guilt.
Knowledge about wrongful death lawsuits and how best you can present your claim will help you prepare better. Hiring an experienced attorney also will help you fight for your rightful compensation more effectively.