In simple terms, wrongful death is a claim against someone responsible directly, and sometimes indirectly, for the cause of a person’s death. The case or arbitration is initiated usually by a relative of the deceased; it’s different from a criminal lawsuit as the choice to file it is left up to the deceased’s loved ones.
The origin of wrongful death laws finds its roots in ancient history. It’s believed that it stems from Frankish civil code, which was created in 500 A.D by the Frankish king. Whole villages could get involved in long-lasting wars that cost a lot of lives and money, which is why devising a method for payment helped immensely in circumventing such bloody escalations. In the modern world, wrongful death is still a bit of a tricky concept as a lot of entities and sides are involved. We’ll be giving you a complete guide to help you wrap your head around the information that could help win a wrongful death case.
Hiring the Right Lawyer
Choosing the right lawyer to handle a wrongful death lawsuit is very important as the stakes are quite high. A lawyer can tell you exactly how to proceed with a wrongful death claim and what to expect. You may want to contact the bar association and get the names of the most famous lawyers who are experienced in wrongful death cases and personal injury law. Googling and reviewing lawyers online are also recommended to put your heart at ease as you’ll be able to see through a more objective lens. A costly lawyer doesn’t necessarily mean a good lawyer; look for lawyers with an impeccable reputation to ensure that you’re getting the best of the best.
The first step that’s required to file a wrongful death case is to ensure that the claim is valid and sound. The victim must have a legitimate personal injury claim that led to death caused by the negligent or intentional action of the defendant or the perpetrator. The most common cases include:
- Intentional death: When the victim is killed by the defendant on purpose. A famous example is O.J Simpson’s murder of Nicole Brown and Ronald Goldman. While the state is filing a criminal lawsuit, a civil lawsuit can be filed by the victim’s estate for monetary compensation.
- Medical malpractice: Failure to accurately identify or diagnose a medical condition that leads to death or negligence during a medical operation permit filing a wrongful death case against the responsible doctor.
- Vehicle-related Accidents: Victims who die due to the results of injuries inflicted by a car accident are considered victims of personal injury and their loved ones have the right to a wrongful death claim.
- Work-related accidents: Work-related accidents include any death that occurs during the operation of work machinery or due to the negligence of employers to employ safety precautions.
All wrongful death claims are personal injury claims. These are the most common, but there are still many different applicable claims. Work-related accidents are the only exception to the rule as they are arbitrated through the worker’s compensation system.
The Burden of Proof
While an applicable claim is essential, it can’t hold any water in court without actual evidence or proof to back it up. Whether the cause of death was negligence or something else, the deceased estate must be able to provide proof that the defendant was either directly or indirectly related to the death of the victim. It must show that the defendant had failed to do a duty correctly and that that has led to the death of the victim. The most common cause of wrongful deaths is due to negligence, and for negligence to be claimed, proving duty, breach of duty, causation, and damages has to be done.
A judge decides whether the defendant owed a duty by considering more than one factor, in addition to the public policy’s view by finding similar cases, whether the harm was expected and its certainty, and the moral blame. Once a duty is found to be existent, the plaintiff or representative must present proof that the defendant had done actions that breached the duty of due care to a jury with facts that are likely to be true.
The next step is proving that the cause of death was actually the breach of duty that occurred by the defendant. The key is to verify that the very same actions that breached the defendant’s duty of due care were the same ones that led to the victim’s death. Proving causation is considered one of the trickiest parts of a wrongful death claim. Proving damages is usually the final step where the representative has to provide enough proof to validate the damages caused by the defendant’s actions.
The Victim’s Estate
Since the victim of a wrongful death case is unable to file a claim, a representative of the deceased files a claim on behalf of the estate of the victim. The nature of the relationship between the victim and survivors who are allowed to file the claim is not standard and varies depending on the state and where the accident had happened. The relationship that’s accepted to file a wrongful death claim in all states is marriage as a spouse can file a wrongful death case. Some states don’t find marriage necessary and permit a romantic partner of the deceased to file the claim.
Parents who were in custody of minors have the right to sue the defendant in all states as well. Many states seem to be at odds when it comes to adult children suing for the death of a parent and vice versa. As a rule of thumb, the more distant the relationship between the victim and the survivor, the harder it will be for the survivor to initiate a claim.
A wrongful death case is a tough legal situation on the deceased close ones. It can get a bit overwhelming as the survivors fight their grief to be able to make a sound case. This is why it’s essential to have a good lawyer whom you can trust on your side and understand how to file the right claims.