When someone dies unexpectedly in a car, truck, motorcycle, construction site, or oil field accident, the lives of the family members who loved and depended on the deceased may never be the same.
At a time when families should be able to focus on processing their grief and laying their loved one to rest, too many are burdened by financial concerns caused by losing the income the decedent provided.
The loss of a loved one can be particularly hard to bear when the death was preventable and caused by another person's negligent actions.
When this occurs, the civil justice system gives the decedent's surviving family members and select others who were financially dependent on the victim the ability to file a wrongful death lawsuit. Unlike a criminal prosecution that seeks to punish a defendant for a crime (or crimes) against society, a wrongful death lawsuit is a civil claim that seeks monetary damages from the party responsible for the death in question.
If you lost a loved one in a negligence-related accident and are considering taking legal action, here's what you need to know about proving a wrongful death claim.
Elements of a Valid Wrongful Death Claim
Before plaintiffs can be awarded damages for the wrongful death of their loved one, they must prove the central point of their lawsuit: that a death occurred as a direct result of the defendant's negligence.
Valid wrongful death cases feature the following four elements:
- Duty of care: The defendant had an obligation to keep the decedent reasonably safe or avoid actions that would cause harm. For example, in car, truck and motorcycle accident cases, the plaintiff must show the defendant was obligated to obey traffic laws and operate his vehicle with caution in the interest of safety.
- Breach of duty of care: The defendant failed to keep the decedent safe or endangered them with their actions. In motor vehicle accident cases, a breach of duty of care could be speeding, or driving while drunk, drowsy, or distracted.
- Causation: A breach of duty of care isn't enough on its own to secure a financial award for the plaintiff. In addition to showing that a breach of duty occurred, plaintiffs must show that said breach was the direct cause of the accident that caused the wrongful death.
- Damages: Finally, the plaintiff must show that the decedent suffered damages as a result of the breach of duty of care. In wrongful death cases, because the person in question is deceased, proving that damages occurred is relatively simple.
The Burden of Proof in a Wrongful Death Civil Case
Many would-be plaintiffs choose not to pursue wrongful death cases, in part because they're concerned their case might not meet the “beyond reasonable doubt” burden of proof.
However, what these people don't know is that the burden of proof is different in civil cases than it is in criminal cases. Rather than “beyond reasonable doubt,” plaintiffs in civil cases must simply prove the claims of their case “by a preponderance of evidence”—which is considered a less-stringent burden of proof.
Monetary awards in wrongful death cases seek to reimburse plaintiffs for financial losses they incurred as a result of their loved one's untimely death. Plaintiffs can seek compensation for a wide range of damages, including:
- Damaged property
- Physical pain and suffering prior to death
- Medical bills related to the wrongful death
- Funeral costs
- Burial or cremation fees
- Loss of the decedent's expected income
- Loss of medical coverage, pension plans, and other benefits provided by the decedent
- Loss of inheritance
- Loss of good and services the decedent would have provided
- Survivor's pain and suffering
- Mental anguish
- Loss of care and protection
- Loss of love and companionship
- Loss of consortium (for surviving spouses)
Do You Need Help Pursuing a Wrongful Death Claim?
If you lost a loved one in an accident due to someone else's negligence, McGartland Law can help you fight for compensation. Contact us today to schedule a free initial case consultation.