If a person dies due to the negligence of another person, their family generally has the right to pursue a civil lawsuit seeking monetary damages. Wrongful deaths can occur due to a number of different causes, including the negligence or reckless behavior of another, unforeseen accidents, and of course through crimes such as murder and manslaughter.
The Difference Between Civil and Criminal Matters
People accused of murder or manslaughter will face criminal charges for their alleged crimes. Those charges are pressed at the discretion of the prosecutor and may result in severe punishments for the offenders, including massive fines and imprisonment. However, criminal convictions do not award any damages to the deceased’s relatives. The deceased’s family must pursue civil litigation in order to obtain any damages to which they may be entitled.
What Must You Prove in a Wrongful Death Case?
The defendant does not need to have committed a crime for you to bring a civil suit against them. However, as the plaintiff, you must prove certain elements of the case in order for the Court to consider ordering the defendant to pay you any damages. This is called meeting the “burden of proof.” In civil cases, the burden of proof is just “a preponderance of the evidence,” whereas criminal matters must be proven “beyond a reasonable doubt.”
Duty of Care and Causation
The legal principles at play here are duty of care and causation. Duty of care means any responsibility a given person might have for preventing harm to other people. For instance, a person driving a car is responsible for obeying traffic laws and driving carefully. A breach of duty of care would be any negligent, reckless or intentional action that could harm someone. No matter whether a person negligently runs a stop sign, recklessly shifts between lanes or intentionally runs down a pedestrian, he or she is considered to have breached his duty of care in that instance. Other examples of breaches of duty of care might be operating heavy machinery while intoxicated, or yelling “fire” in a crowded theater.
Causation means that there is a direction connection between a person’s actions and the other individual’s wrongful death. For instance, if a person recklessly discharges a firearm at a gun rally and strikes and kills another attendee, his or her reckless act directly caused the death. However, a defendant might not be found responsible if something other than his or her own actions caused the wrongful death. Even if a driver breached his or her duty of care by failing to stop at a stop sign, they might not be responsible if, say, the direct cause of the wrongful death was a mechanical failure, such as the brakes failing in the victim’s car.
Generally, the plaintiff must prove both a breach of duty of care and direct causation in order to meet the burden of proof in a wrongful death case.
Duty of Care and Causation
If you have recently lost a loved one through someone else’s negligence, you should consider consulting with an experienced civil attorney right away. Our civil team is knowledgeable, responsive, and ready to help. Contact us today to set up a consultation with a member of our experienced legal team.