Wrongful Death

Losing a loved one is terrible, but when it results from someone else’s negligence, you can take legal action. A wrongful death civil lawsuit allows the family of victims to recover damages and seek closure and justice for an awful incident.

What is Wrongful Death?

Wrongful death is a death resulting from negligence or intentional action. It is a type of tort action in which harm is caused by the negligence of someone liable[1]. A wrongful death may be a criminal or civil matter. In the right circumstances, actions causing an individual’s death may be criminal and subject to criminal charges. The alleged perpetrator may also be subject to a civil lawsuit to help the family recover damages.

Wrongful Death vs. Murder

A significant difference between murder and wrongful death lawsuits is the burden of proof. In a criminal murder case, the prosecutor must show that the criminal committed the crime “beyond a reasonable doubt.” In a wrongful death case, the plaintiff only needs to show that by a “preponderance of the evidence,” the defendant is more likely than not negligent and liable for the death.

Another difference between murder and wrongful death are the penalties. A criminal murder case seeks jail time for the perpetrator, which may also include payment of damages to the family or restitution to an injured party. A wrongful death civil lawsuit seeks to compensate the victim’s family through the payment of damages.

There may be an overlap between murder and wrongful death. A murder is committed with intent, but the perpetrator can also be held liable for damages to the family. A criminal trial is not a necessary precursor to a wrongful death lawsuit. You may file a lawsuit over negligence, even if there are no criminal charges.

Examples of Wrongful Death

Any time negligence plays a role in someone’s death, it may be considered a wrongful death. Negligence is any action or inaction that breaches reasonable expectations of care or responsibility. An intentional wrong is when someone acts in a way to harm someone, whether or not they intended for the individual to die. Examples of wrongful death include:

  • Medical malpractice. A medical professional’s negligence due to their failure to follow the acceptable standard of care causes a patient’s death.
  • Vehicle accidents. When a driver fails to follow the rules of the road, is distracted, or drives under the influence, causing a fatal accident.
  • Product liability. A defective product sold by a merchant causes a death.
  • Workplace accident. Unsafe work conditions may lead to a worker’s death.
  • Premises liability. When someone dies due to known, unsafe conditions in a place of business, the company may be considered negligent when it results in injury or death.
  • Drug overdoses. Drug companies may be liable for dangerous drugs that knowingly cause unintentional overdoses.
  • Drowning. Someone dies by drowning because of failure to secure the water source or its enclosure.
  • Boating accidents. Someone may drown as a result of unsafe boat operations.
  • Aviation accident. If a person dies in a plane crash, their family may hold the airline, pilot, or other staff liable and seek civil damages.

When Should I Sue for Wrongful Death?

If a family member died due to an individual’s or an organization’s negligence, you may sue for wrongful death. Check the laws of your jurisdiction to confirm the length of time to available to bring the suit.

There are good reasons to take this step:

  • You have lost a loved one due to someone else’s actions, and they should be held accountable.
  • The emotional pain you suffer because of the death is significant. Holding someone responsible provides important closure.
  • The loss of a loved one may create a financial burden for the family. This may include medical and funeral expenses but also lost income. By suing, the family may be able to recover these damages.
  • If you lost a spouse and have children, they suffer the loss emotionally and also financially.

Consult with a lawyer experienced in wrongful death cases if you are not sure your case involves negligence or intentional wrongs. Reputable attorneys offer free case evaluations so that you do not risk spending money you don’t have only to find out there is no case. The attorney can outline your options and rights and advise you on what to do next.

Who Can Sue for Wrongful Death?

The laws guiding wrongful death cases may depend on the state in which it occurred. Consult with a lawyer to advise if you are eligible to file suit. Generally, those who may file include:

  1. Immediate family members
  2. Financial dependents
  3. Non-married partners
  4. Anyone who suffered financially from the loss

Some states allow for more distant family members to sue, depending on the situation. For instance, grandparents may sue if they are raising a grandchild killed in a wrongful death incident. If a fetus dies in the womb, some states allow the mother or father to sue for wrongful death if negligence is involved.

What to Do After Losing a Loved One to Negligence

After taking care of essentials, the best thing you can do is talk to an experienced wrongful death lawyer, a lawyer experienced in helping the family of wrongful death victims. They know the state laws that apply in your case and can explain your options.

Take steps to preserve any evidence of negligence so that your lawyer can best help you. This may include making a police report if applicable, recording what you remember of the incident, and gathering contact information for any witnesses. Keep all medical bills and records for your loved one for use in calculating damages.

This is a confusing and challenging time. You may not be sure what the next right step is, but the right attorney can put your mind at ease. They will help you understand what wrongful death is, if it applies in your case, and what you can do to get justice. 

  1. Cornell Law School. Legal Information Institute. (n.d.). Wrongful Death Action.
    Retrieved from: https://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/wrongful_death_action