You’ve probably heard the term “wrongful death” before when it comes to legal claims, but you may not understand exactly what that means. In general terms, you may be aware that wrongful death refers to a death caused in some way by another party, and that is partially true.
A wrongful death claim is typically filed by the loved ones and/or family members of a person who died as a result of a third party’s negligence, or as a result of misconduct or an intentional act by a third party.
People who file wrongful death claims believe that a third party is responsible for the death of a person, whether that death came about accidentally or through a conscious act such as murder. You often see wrongful death lawsuits following criminal trials in which a defendant was found not guilty, because grieving loved ones of the deceased continue to seek justice.
Common Types of Wrongful Death Claims
There are a number of different types of wrongful death claims, but the most common are:
- Car accidents/Truck accidents – claimants can file suit based on circumstances such as reckless driving, road rage and other dangerous driver behavior.
- Workplace accidents – wrongful death claims are often filed after a person dies or is killed while on the job due to the negligence of an employer.
- Defective products – claims filed against the manufacturer of a product that did not operate properly, causing someone’s death.
- Medical – errors such as leaving instruments inside a patient that caused that patient to bleed internally and later die of those injuries.
- Murder (after defendant found “not guilty”) – civil lawsuit brought against a person who was tried for murder but found not guilty. Probably the most famous wrongful death trial in U.S. history was that of O.J. Simpson, who was found not guilty of murdering Nicole Brown and Ron Goldman in a criminal court, but was found guilty in a wrongful death claim filed by the families of Brown and Goldman.
Loss and Compensation
Wrongful death suits are civil actions, which means that victories in these cases do not involve incarceration, but are always monetary.
There are several types of compensation that claimants seek in these cases, including:
- Loss of inheritance – the death robbed claimants of future inheritance
- Funeral expenses
- Actual and future loss of earnings
- Loss of companionship
- Medical bills – outstanding bills for care of loved one prior to death
- Pain and suffering/overall loss – damages for grief, loss and anxiety associated with the death of the loved one
Main Factors of a Wrongful Death Claim
Wrongful death claims can be complex and challenging because there are four main factors that are involved in proving that a defendant is responsible for the death of another person:
- Breach of duty – this essentially means that the defendant had a duty to the person who died, and failed to maintain that duty. For example, a police officer who is accused of causing a death is duty-bound to protect and serve citizens, not to hurt them.
- Negligence – this involves proving that the defendant’s reckless, careless or negligent actions – partially or wholly – caused the death of the plaintiff’s loved one.
- Causation – this involves proving exactly how the defendant’s actions lead to the person’s death.
- Damages – this involves quantifying the compensation that the claimant is seeking.