What is a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?
The case of a “wrongful death” suit may become applicable if someone dies due to negligence or misconduct of another. A wrongful death lawsuit primarily seeks compensation for the survivors’ loss. They can include the deceased lost wages, companionship as well as funeral expenses. A wrongful death claim exists when it’s legally another person’s fault who caused the death of another. Instances include a drunk driver running over someone, or even a bartender serving alcohol to a drunk driver knowingly.
Wrongful death statutes differ in every state. But they all define who can sue for wrongful death compensations and the limits in the awarding. It was originally created to provide financial aid to widows and orphans.
Who Can Sue For wrongful death?
Most state laws allow the surviving spouse, immediate family member, children, and to an extent, parents of the deceased (in case of stillbirth due to negligence) to sue for wrongful death. All in all, it entirely depends on the status of the wrongful death. Generally, the claim is brought forth by a personal representative of the decedent’s estate.
Civil “wrongful death statute,” or set of statutes, exists in every state to establish the procedures of a wrongful death claims. The attorney may also include actions for injury, conscious pain and suffering and expenses incurred before the untimely death of the decedent. The damages awarded belong to the estate and will be passed on to the parties as directed by the deceased will.
Elements of Wrongful Death
A wrongful death is a legal term describing the death of an individual caused by recklessness or negligence of other people or entities. Usually, immediate family members of the deceased victim seek a wrongful death claim or lawsuit to obtain compensation for their emotional and financial damages. This often includes family members such as parents, spouses, and children of the deceased victim.
The Four Key Elements in Wrongful Death Suit
There are four primary elements revolving around a suite, as defined by law. Moreover, the party filing the lawsuit must prove each element in order to win the case and receive the compensation entitled. The four elements include:
The plaintiff or their legal representatives must provide definite proof that the ensuing death was as a result (either in part or in whole) of the carelessness, negligence or recklessness of the defendant.
- Breach of Duty
Next up, it must be proven that the defendant owed a duty to the deceased. For instance, it is the duty of a motorist to not operate while drunk, or it is their duty to drive safely and observe traffic laws. Doctors and medical practitioners have the duty to follow ethical and safe medical practices to maintain a patient’s health.
Therefore the plaintiff must establish how the defendant failed in their duty or breached protocol through their actions that led to the death.
Additionally, the plaintiff must also prove how the defendant’s breach of duty led to the death of their loved one.
Finally, the resulting death of the victim must have created quantifiable damages including financial expenses (medical, funeral and burial costs). They must also include mental and emotional damages.
Proving these in court via a wrongful death lawsuit demands strong and convincing evidence. It also require expert witness testimony presented by a skilled and specialized wrongful death attorney.
The Burden of Proof
Since this type of lawsuit is a civil action, the burden of proof is set lower in comparison to a criminal case. For a lawsuit to be successful, it requires the preponderance of evidence. This is opposed to a criminal case standard set of being guilty beyond reasonable doubt.
In pursuing a wrongful death civil action, numerous steps are involved including formulating a strategy, detailed investigation of the claim, getting in touch and speaking with experts, meeting witnesses, and subsequently researching tort law. A wrongful death claim will involve mediation, demands and settlements meted out. However, if these initial strategies fail, then a lawsuit is filed and the case proceeds to trial.
The evidence quantity is not always required. Rather it the credibility and quality of the evidence that matters. This is again, unlike a criminal lawsuit as mentioned earlier. Due to this feature, it is always prudent to hire the most skilled attorney to formulate a solid case and ensure the burden of the proof set is met. Otherwise, the plaintiff might just be gearing up for a loss and fail to recover damages.
In most civil action suits, selecting a skilled lawyer is often a critical component that must not be overlooked. More so in pursuing a civil action to receive compensation or an adequate settlement.