Wrongful Death

A wrongful death lawsuit is a civil claim filed against another person or entity for allegedly causing someone’s death. In order to establish a wrongful death, the individual filing the claim must show the following:

  • The defendant’s actions or, in some cases, the defendant’s omissions, in whole or in part caused the death.
  • The defendant’s actions or omissions were either negligent or intentional, or the law held the defendant to the legal standard of strict liability.
  • The person filing the lawsuit incurred quantifiable damages, costs or losses of determinable amounts, because of the death.

Common Causes

Most wrongful death lawsuits arise from one of the following types of situations:

  • Car and Vehicle Accidents

In a case involving a motor vehicle accident, the defendant might be another driver who caused the accident. However, a lawsuit might also name the car manufacturer or a mechanic as the defendant in the case if the accident resulted from a defective vehicle.

  • Workplace Accidents

While a construction site accident is an easy example, a workplace accident can occur in any type of job environment. The key legal issue is whether the employer failed to maintain a safe working environment, regardless of whether the employer’s workplace is an office or a production line.

  • – Medical Malpractice

A victim can file a medical malpractice lawsuit against medical professionals. If a medical professional fails to meet a reasonable standard of care and a patient dies as a result, the patient’s family may be able to start a wrongful death case. Medical malpractice is an area of law in which a defendant’s lack of action can serve as the basis for a lawsuit since medical professionals must generally meet a specific duty of care towards patients under their control.

  • Product Liability

A manufacturer, product designer, or distributor of any faulty product can have liability for deaths costs by the faulty product.

The Process

Only someone whom the state recognizes as having the right to file a wrongful death lawsuit may do so. Usually an immediate family member will have the right to file this type of lawsuit.

If the claimant has standing to file the wrongful death suit, he or she must file for legal action against the proper defendant. A lawsuit may potentially involve more than one defendant. For example, if a driver or doctor actually caused the death, a lawsuit might also name the employee’s employer as a defendant who might be for injuries caused during the course of employment. A claim may also go farther back in the chain of events, for example, by including the bartender who served alcohol to the driver, while also suing the drunk driver.

The plaintiff must also file the lawsuit within the state’s legal time limit. If the state requires the filing of a wrongful death claim within a year of the death, the claimant likely may not be able to file suit 18 months after the death, regardless of the facts of the case or the quality of the legal arguments.

In a civil claim, the claimant only has to show that the defendant is responsible for the wrongful death by a “preponderance of the evidence.” This legal standard means that the evidence shows that the defendant’s conduct more likely than not resulted in the death. This standard is a considerably easier burden to meet than the “beyond a reasonable doubt” requirement in criminal cases..