Losing a loved one to death can be a difficult obstacle to overcome. But losing a loved one due to someone else’s actions can be even more devastating, especially if the loss was unexpected.
Likewise, wrongful death lawsuits can be brought against someone who, through intentional actions or negligence, caused another’s death. The deceased’s estate or family can bring a lawsuit against the responsible party. Often, these claims are filed if the family could not get justice through criminal charges.
Wrongful Death Claim Examples
Some of the more common reasons that a wrongful death claim can be filed include:
- car accidents
- medical malpractice
- criminal actions
- defective products
- childcare neglect
Proving a Wrongful Death Case
Wrongful death lawsuits can be won even if no criminal charges are filed against the defendant.
Because they are civil cases, wrongful death lawsuits do not require “proof beyond a reasonable doubt.” That is only required in criminal cases.
However, any evidence that is presented in a civil case should support the plaintiff’s claims.
The evidence must show that the defendant’s negligence, or carelessness, resulted in death. Three areas are used to show negligence.
These areas are:
- Duty of Care
- Breach of Duty
- Cause of Death
Duty of Care: Duty of care is the obligation of a person or organization to take all reasonable measures to prevent actions that could result in harm to others.
Example: A motorist has a duty of care to drive safely and protect others from harm.
All motorists have a minimal obligation to keep themselves and others safe while operating a motor vehicle.
That means that all motorists should obey traffic laws, not drive distracted, maintain the condition of their vehicles, not drive under the influence of drugs or alcohol, and adhere to any signs that control the flow of traffic.
In wrongful death claims, everything the defendant did or did not do while driving a vehicle will be examined. This examination will be used to see whether or not he was responsibly operating the vehicle.
If it is found that the motorist’s actions were below the minimal standard, like those mentioned above, then he did not maintain duty of care.
Breach of Duty: Once duty of care is established, the next step is determining how that duty was breached.
Example: A motorist is speeding, driving drunk, or driving recklessly, which results in harm to others.
Failing to observe traffic laws, not paying attention to posted traffic signs, speeding, speeding while driving in hazardous conditions, swerving in and out of traffic, driving impaired, or texting while driving are all actions that can be considered a breach of duty.
If a motorist is found to have committed any of these violations, he did not perform his minimal duty of maintaining the safety of others.
Statements from passengers, eyewitnesses, and bystanders; video from cell phones or traffic lights; and even pictures can be used to prove a breach of duty.
Cause of Death: If duty of care is established and that duty was breached, then it must be proven that breach of duty caused harm to another person.
Example: A motorist with a blood-alcohol level above the legal limit gets behind the wheel, drives, and causes the death of another. Ultimately that person failed to take reasonable measures to prevent harm.
If a motorist hits another person’s car while driving drunk, and the individual who was hit is killed, that action directly caused the death.
It is illegal to drive with a blood-alcohol level higher than the legal limit, and drug and alcohol tests can be used to prove those actions contributed to the death.
Likewise, accident reports and statements from witnesses, law enforcement, and medial and legal professionals can also be used to prove that the actions of one individual resulted in the death of another.
Additionally, an attorney can collect and examine evidence that can be directly credited to the death.
When Should I Contact an Attorney?
Even though it may appear that a wrongful death claim is obviously present, it is wise to consult with a legal professional who understands the law and your rights.
You should contact an attorney as soon as there is any indication that you might have a legal claim of wrongful death. It is in your best interest to fully understand which factors may impact a claim. An experienced attorney can answer all of your questions and provide guidance.