A wrongful death lawsuit is based on negligence. The lawsuit can only be filed by someone who is a member of family for the person who has died. Different states have different regulations in terms of who can be classed as a family member, but it usually includes children, spouse and parents. In some states, other family members, such as legal dependents, grandparents and estranged spouses can also be file wrongful death negligence lawsuits. However, strict limitations and rules are usually placed on this.
Definition of Wrongful Death Negligence
Before filing a wrongful death negligence lawsuit, it is important to understand what the definition of wrongful death actually is. Essentially, it happens when somebody’s life is taken due to the willful negligence of someone else. Those responsible for this death can be sued for their negligent actions. It is an area of tort law and statutes govern it. Each state has its own statutes for tort law. These will defined who is able to sue and what limits are in place in terms of damages and time.
The legal term “wrongful death” was first created in order to ensure orphans and widows would be financially supported in the event of a death of a breadwinner. The goal was to ensure employers would avoid dangerous work situations. At all times, however, it has been known that wrongful death is not a criminal conviction. This is why someone who is acquitted of murder or manslaughter at criminal trial can still be sued for wrongful death in a criminal court. The most famous of such trials was perhaps the O.J. Simpson trial.
Someone can sue for wrongful death whether the action was intentional or unintentional. An example of an intentional wrongful death is when someone delivers a blow to the head during an altercation that eventually leads to death. An example of unintentional wrongful death could be during a motor vehicle accident. If somebody has a swimming pool in their yard without enclosure, they may also be classed as negligent and face wrongful death charges if somebody accidentally drowns in that pool.
Finally, it is not possible to file a claim for wrongful death on an unborn fetus. This is because legal status only starts to apply at the time of a live birth. If, however, a child is born alive and then dies due to injuries that occurred before it was born, a wrongful death situation may be present.
The Four Elements of Wrongful Death Negligence
If someone files a wrongful death negligence case, four elements have to be present in order for the case to be heard. These are:
1. The death of a loved one must have been caused, wholly or partially, by the actions of the defendant.
2. The death of a loved one occurred directly as a result of the negligence of the defendant.
3. The death of a loved one has affected the surviving family members, including yourself, which will allow you to qualify for compensation in the verdict of this case.
4. The death of a loved one caused you to have monetary losses.
These four elements are guidelines only, since each state has its own laws and statutes in terms of what does and does not count as a wrongful death claim. If you feel you may have a case to be heard, it is important to contact an attorney as soon as possible. This is something that should not be delayed, as most states also have a time limit on how long after a death occurred can a claim be made.
Proof of Negligence
Perhaps the most complex part of wrongful death cases is the element of negligence, which must be present for the case to be heard. Essentially, this means that someone did not use reasonable and expected care in a certain situation. If this results in a death, a case for wrongful death may be made.
In a wrongful death case, negligence is demonstrated by proving that the actions of the defendant were careless. Additionally, it must be proven that there is a direct cause and effect that relates between the negligent, careless actions of the defendant and the death of the loved on. This process is highly complex and will require expert witness testimony, very strong evidence and a highly convincing argument.
There are four specific elements to a claim of negligence. These elements must be demonstrated by the plaintiff in the case in order for it to be heard. The elements are:
1. Duty. The defendant must have had a legal duty towards the deceased in the circumstances in which the event happened. This is known as legal duty of care. Some of these duties include doctors providing care to their patients and motorists paying attention when driving.
2. Breach. This requires the plaintiff to prove that the defendant breached his legal duty because he behaved or acted in a certain way, or failed to act in a way that was expected of him.
3. Causation. This element means that it must be proven that the action or inaction of the defendant were the cause of the injury and subsequent death of the plaintiff’s loved one.
4. Damages. It must be proven that the actions of the defendant caused harm or injury to the plaintiff. In a wrongful death case, the damage would be death.
Proving negligence in a wrongful death case can be incredibly difficult. At the same time, some cases are very clear cut. Either way, however, it is vital that you seek expert legal advice in order to deal with this case. That way, you will stand a bigger chance of receiving compensation for your losses.