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 Elements
There are four key elements involved in wrongful death as defined by law. Surviving members submitting a claim or filing a lawsuit must prove each element to win a case for financial recompense. The four key elements include:
- Negligence – The surviving members or their legal representatives must prove the death of their loved one was caused (in part or in whole) by the recklessness, carelessness, or negligent actions of the defending party.
- Breach of Duty – To be successful in the case, it must be proved that the defendant in a wrongful death lawsuit owed a duty to the deceased victim. For example, a motorist maintains a duty to drive safely, and follow and obey every traffic law. Doctors and medical health providers have the duty to maintain a patient’s health. It is up to the plaintiff to establish how the defendant’s duty existed, and that the duty was breached through their negligent actions.
- Causation – In addition to proving how the duty of the defendant was breached toward the deceased, the lawsuit plaintiff must also prove how the defendant’s negligence caused their loved one’s death.
- Damages – The death of the victim must have generated quantifiable damages such as hospitalization, medical expenses, funeral and burial costs, loss of income and potential earnings, loss of protection, guidance and inheritance along with pain and suffering of the victim prior to death.
Proving these points in court through a wrongful death lawsuit requires producing strong convincing evidence and expert witness testimony presented by a skilled attorney specializing in wrongful death cases.
Wrongful Death Common Causes
Attorneys that specialize in wrongful death claims and lawsuits are often involved in a variety of cases with common causes, such as:
- Automobile, commercial truck or motorcycle accidents
- Medical malpractice
- Birth injuries
- Product defects
- Occupational exposure and hazards
- Premises accidents
- Criminal actions including blatant violence, shootings and stabbings
- Supervised activities including day care, adult care and field trips
- Nursing home and assisted living abuse and neglect
The Burden of Proof
Because a wrongful death lawsuit is a civil action and not a criminal case, the burden of proof is set lower. To be successful, the lawsuit must be won on the preponderance of evidence as opposed to the standard set in a criminal case of being guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
Pursuing civil action for a wrongful death case involves numerous steps including developing a strategy, investigating the claim, speaking with experts, meeting witnesses, and researching tort law. The wrongful death legal process will involve demands, mediation and a possible settlement of the claim. If an agreement is unsuccessful, a lawsuit can be filed to take the case to trial.
Quantity of evidence is not required when the plaintiff presents their wrongful death case, but rather credibility and quality of the evidence. Because of that, it is essential to hire a skilled attorney that can build a solid case to ensure that the burden of proof has been met. Otherwise, the plaintiff will lose the suit and not recover damages.
Selecting a skilled lawyer is often an essential component when pursuing civil action for wrongful death. The confidence and reputation of the attorney in the community in handling cases like yours will help improve the chances of receiving an adequate settlement or a proper award at trial.
An experienced attorney is important because a claim for wrongful death can be complicated. The most successful lawyers are those that communicate with the client, and work to achieve a common goal – obtaining adequate financial recompense. A skilled lawyer will protect the rights to their client and provide proper representation by building a solid case to prove the four elements of a wrongful death claim.