What Is a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?

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In 2020, an estimated 200,955 people died in the United States from unintentional injuries making this the fourth leading cause of death in the country. In some of these cases, a fatality occurs due to someone else’s negligence or misconduct leaving them exposed to a potential wrongful death lawsuit brought by the victim’s loved ones.

One of the leading causes of wrongful death lawsuits in the U.S. is motor vehicle accidents. According to the NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) over 30,000 individuals died last year due to their injuries from motor vehicle traffic crashes. Other causes of wrongful death may include medical malpractice, work-related and construction accidents, defective products, unsafe premises and criminal acts such as stabbings and shootings.

If you have lost a loved one as a result of wrongful death, you may be eligible to bring forth a wrongful death lawsuit and receive compensation for matters such as funeral expenses, loss of companionship and more. You can further discuss your options by booking a free consultation with an experienced law firm such as Wagners Law, who can advise you of your rights. This article will outline some of the elements required to successfully bring a wrongful death lawsuit.

What Is Wrongful Death?

Wrongful death is a civil cause of action that allows surviving family members to seek compensation from the party responsible for the death of a loved one. Similar to personal injury cases, wrongful death arises due to negligence, reckless or intentional acts.

Unlike criminal cases which require that the defendant be found guilty ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’, civil actions such as wrongful death have a slightly lower standard of proof. Instead, the defendant must be found responsible by a ‘preponderance of the evidence’, meaning they are more likely than not responsible for the death.

How to Prove Wrongful Death

Most wrongful death claims center on establishing negligence on the part of the defendant. This is present when there is a failure to act with the level of care that a reasonable or prudent person would have exercised under the same circumstances. The onus will be on the plaintiff to prove that following elements of negligent apply to the facts of the case:

  • Duty of Care:  The defendant must have owed a duty of care to the deceased. For example, motorists have a duty of care to other road users and pedestrians.
  • Breach of Duty of Care – The defendant must have breached their duty of care. For example, a motorist that was speeding at the time of an accident would have breached their duty of care.
  • Causation – In addition to breaching their duty of care, it must be proved that the defendant’s actions directly caused the victim’s death or led to the injuries which led to their eventual death.
  • Damages – The death of the victim must result in a measurable loss for the plaintiff which they can claim financial compensation for. This can include things like funeral and burial costs, medical expenses, pain and suffering of the victim, loss of potential earnings and the loss of consortium.

A court may also decide to award punitive damages to a plaintiff to punish the defendant and to act as a deterrent toward such behavior in the future.

The information in this article can serve as a useful guide to pursuing a wrongful death lawsuit.

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