A wrongful death claim is a lawsuit that is filed by the family members of someone who was killed by another person or by a company due to an intentional act or through negligence or carelessness. Plaintiffs who win a wrongful death claim are entitled to damages for medical expenses, pain and suffering, and future loss of income caused by their loved one’s untimely death.
One of the most famous examples of a wrongful death claim was the civil suit filed by the families of Nicole Brown and Ron Goldman against O.J. Simpson after the jury in a criminal trial found Simpson not guilty of murdering the two victims. The jury in the wrongful death claim found that Simpson was liable for intentionally causing the deaths of his ex-wife and her friend, and he was ordered to pay $58 million in damages.
The Burden of Proof In Wrongful Death Claims
There are four elements that must be present in order for a plaintiff to prove a wrongful death claim, including:
- Breach of Duty of Due Care – This means that the defendant owed the person who died the duty to refrain from doing them harm. So in the example of the O.J. Simpson wrongful death case, Simpson had a duty of care not to harm Nicole Brown and Ron Goldman, but breached that duty by intentionally causing their deaths.
- Negligence Or Carelessness – Plaintiffs must show that the defendant’s negligence or carelessness caused the death of their loved one.
- Causation – Plaintiffs must prove that the defendant’s actions directly caused the death of the person they loved.
- Actual Damages – Plaintiffs must provide evidence of the actual damages that they have suffered, including loss of future wages, medical expenses, funeral expenses, and pain and suffering.
It’s important to understand that in a wrongful death claim, a plaintiff only needs to show that the preponderance of the evidence points to the defendant’s guilt. This is a much lower standard than in a criminal case, in which a plaintiff must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant is guilty.
Remember also that there are no punitive damages allowed in wrongful death cases. The consequence of losing a wrongful death claim is that the defendant must pay the plaintiff whatever amount the jury awards.
Common Types of Wrongful Death Cases
There are a number of different situations that could potentially lead to a wrongful death claim, including:
- Car Accident – Plaintiffs can file a claim against a person who caused the death of another driver, passenger or pedestrian through a reckless, careless or negligent act.
- Medical Malpractice – Plaintiffs can file a claim against a doctor or surgeon whose negligence caused a person’s death. For example, a surgeon who leaves an instrument inside a patient that leads to a fatal infection could be liable for wrongful death.
- Murder – If a defendant on trial for murder is found not guilty in a criminal court, a plaintiff could sue that defendant in civil court for causing that death through an intentional act.
- Product Defect – Plaintiffs can file suit against the manufacturer of a product that led to a person’s death. For example, if a rollercoaster derailed and killed someone, the family members of the person who died could file suit against the manufacturer of the ride for a defect that caused the derailment.
Wrongful death claims can provide justice to grieving families, and hold people accountable for their actions. If you need an experienced lawyer to represent you in this type of claim, please call the Law Offices of Duane O. King to schedule a consultation.