Suddenly losing a loved one is devastating—but knowing that your loved one’s death could have been prevented makes it even more difficult. When a person’s death was the result of another party’s negligence or reckless actions, surviving family members should consider a wrongful death claim to get justice for their loved one and seek financial compensation for their loss.
However, how do you know you have a case? How do you prove wrongful death? Here’s a wrongful death guide explaining what you need to know.
What is a wrongful death case?
A wrongful death lawsuit is a civil case meant to help surviving family members get financial support after losing a loved one due to careless or violent actions. It is essentially a personal injury case that family members bring on behalf of their deceased loved one. They can claim damages the victim could have recovered if they had survived.
What are the common causes of wrongful death?
Wrongful death can happen to anybody under a variety of circumstances. Some of the most common causes of wrongful death include:
- Car accidents
- Truck accidents
- Motorcycle accidents
- Pedestrian accidents
- Medical malpractice
- Birth injuries
- Product defects
- Slip and fall accidents
- Nursing home abuse or neglect
- Work-related accidents
When a person dies as a result of one of these causes, their family members may qualify to file a wrongful death lawsuit.
What must you prove for your wrongful death case to be successful?
To have a wrongful death case, there must be an element of negligence that led to the death. What does this mean? It means the defendant did not act reasonably. They failed to act as any reasonable person would have acted in the same situation. In other words, that person’s carelessness or reckless actions led to death.
There are four elements to every wrongful death claim that must be proven. These four wrongful death case elements are:
1. Duty of Care
The first thing you must prove is a duty of care, which means the defendant had some type of duty to the victim. An example is a duty a doctor has to a patient or the duty a property owner has to customers on premises. The doctor is required to provide the minimum standard of care for his patient. The property owner has a legal obligation to provide a safe, hazard-free area to patrons of his store.
2. Breach of Duty
The next element of a wrongful death claim you must prove is a breach of that duty. Did the doctor fail to provide care that met the standards for that medical practice? Did the property owner fail to repair a broken stair railing? These are examples of a breach of duty.
While proving a duty of care and a breach of that duty are essential for any wrongful death case, making the connection between those actions and the wrongful death is crucial. Did the plaintiff’s breach of duty directly lead to the wrongful death of the victim?
In our examples, this could mean the doctor’s failure to prevent a post-surgical infection led to the victim’s death. Also, the broken railing caused the victim to fall down the stairs and ultimately pass away due to head trauma. To prove the wrongful death case, you must show this causation.
The final element of a wrongful death case is damages. There must be quantifiable damages as a direct result of the victim’s death. For family members, this could be how they financially and emotionally suffered due to the loss of their loved one.
What damages can you claim in a wrongful death case?
Wrongful death cases can include similar damage to other personal injury cases, with some additions. If the victim has survived, the damages this person could claim should be included in the wrongful death claim.
Some examples of damages you may recover include:
- Medical bills
- Property damage expenses
- Lost wages
- Loss of potential earnings
- Pain and suffering (before the victim’s death)
- Loss of consortium
However, there are also other damages specific to wrongful death claims:
- Burial costs
- Funeral expenses
- Loss of guidance and protection
- Loss of inheritance
If you’re considering a wrongful death case after losing a loved one, speak with an experienced wrongful death attorney to see if you qualify to make a claim. A legal professional will also help you claim the maximum amount for your losses.
What is the burden of proof for wrongful death?
A wrongful death claim is a civil case, which means the burden of proof is much lower than in criminal cases. While criminal cases must be proven using the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard, a case involving negligence must be proven by a “preponderance of the evidence.” This means the evidence must show that it is more likely than not that the death was caused by the defendant’s negligence.
The burden of proof falls on the plaintiff to prove all the elements of negligence in order to win the case. However, most wrongful death claims will be settled out of court before having to go to trial.
Should you work with a wrongful death attorney?
It’s hard enough to lose a loved one. You shouldn’t have to worry about financial ruin also. Hiring a professional attorney is one of the most beneficial things you can do when taking legal action for wrongful death. These types of cases can be incredibly complex, leaving you feeling overwhelmed while you’re also grieving for your family member. An experienced lawyer will offer the legal representation and support to get you the compensation you deserve.
Your family should work with a specialized attorney in your state if you want to get the most from this legal process. If you’re in Indianapolis, for example, consult with a wrongful death attorney in Indianapolis who understands the laws and court system in your state. You can rely on your attorney to fight for your rights and get justice for your lost loved one.