Proving Wrongful Death

Wrongful death is defined as the death of a person caused by the intentional or negligent action of another person. A good example would be a person who is killed in a drunk driving accident. While the driver did not intend to cause death, he or she may nevertheless be found civilly liable under a wrongful death suit as well as criminally liable under a manslaughter charge.

The burden of proof for a civil suit is generally lighter than for a criminal charge; that is, the plaintiff in a civil case only has to prove that death was most likely caused by the negligent or intentional act of another, while the prosecutor in a criminal case has to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant caused the death of the victim. A defendant in a criminal case may be acquitted of a murder charge but may still be held liable in civil court.

That is not to say that proving wrongful death is easy; it is just not as hard. It is important to establish causation as soon as possible in each case. Wrongful death can come about under different agencies including but not limited to:

  • vehicular or pedestrian accidents
  • occupational falls
  • unintentional drowning
  • a fight
  • medical error

When suing for wrongful death, the plaintiff must have the documents and testimonies that will show the “but for” of the case, as in “but for” the action (or inaction) of the defendant, death would not have resulted.

Depending on the circumstances of the case, causation may be immediately apparent or appallingly ambiguous. In either case, and anywhere in between, it would require the legal expertise of an experienced personal injury lawyer to prepare and present the case for successful negotiation of a settlement or in a civil trial.

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