Wrongful death is a type of claim which can occur when a person or entity wrongfully causes someone’s death. Many times, wrongful death claims are initiated by the deceased person’s family – including parents, spouses, and children – with damages awarded to help offset the emotional and financial burden of the loss.
Common wrongful death claims can be the result of:
automobile or motorcycle accidents
slip and falls
criminal actions (like shootings, violence, and stabbings), supervised activities such as day care facilities, senior centers, or school/after-school activities, nursing homes
injuries sustained during childbirth
Each state has different laws regarding wrongful death claims, but there are four common elements needed for every wrongful death claim. You must prove these four elements to win a wrongful death claim:
Negligence: Like in a personal injury claim, you need to show negligence in a wrongful death claim. Negligence is a legal term that means a person or entity failed to use reasonable care, which resulted in damage, injury, or death to a person. For wrongful death claims, you must prove that the death of your loved one was caused (in part or in whole) by the actions or inactions of the other party.
Breach of Duty: An essential component in any wrongful death claim is proving that the defendant had a duty to the deceased victim. A motorist who must drive safely and obey traffic laws or a health professional who must take measures to maintain a patient’s health could both qualify as individuals who were supposed to keep the victim safe. It is the responsibility of the plaintiff (or party filing the claim) to establish what duty the defendant had to the victim and how that duty was breached through their negligent actions.
Causation: For a successful wrongful death claim, the plaintiff not only has to prove that the defendant breached their duty to the deceased, but also that the breach – their negligent actions – caused the victim’s death.
Damages: The most personal of the elements is damages or the quantifiable measure of the effect of the victim’s death. Damages can include financial figures such as hospitalizations, funeral expenses, medical costs, burial costs, loss of income (including future wages), loss of guidance, and loss of protection. Damages can also include non-financial figures such as emotional distress, pain, and suffering.
The burden of proof in wrongful death claims is on the plaintiffs or surviving family members. Proving the four elements will require substantial evidence, expert testimony, and a skilled, experienced wrongful death attorney. Pursuing civil actions for a wrongful death case involves many steps including developing a strategy, investigating the claim, collecting quality evidence, interviewing experts and witnesses, and understanding the law.
While nothing can replace your loved one, an experienced and successful wrongful death attorney can work with you to build a strong case, protect your rights and help you receive the compensation you deserve.