Litigated by personal injury and criminal attorneys, wrongful death claims involve tort cases where the defendant’s negligent behavior is attributed to someone’s death. This death has left behind surviving family members and/or legal dependents who will suffer, either financially, emotionally or both, as a consequence of the person’s death. Specifically, wrongful death lawsuits takes compensatory action against individuals who have indirectly caused the death of a loved due to negligence, medical malpractice, creating dangerous conditions or criminal activity. The concept of a wrongful death lawsuit focuses on how a death has impacted family and close friends of the deceased. Recovery amount is based primarily on severity of the emotional and financial distress experienced by claimants and, in some cases, the amount of wages the deceased may have earned if they had not died.
Events legally admissible in wrongful death lawsuits include automobile accidents, product liability, workplace accidents and medical malpractice. Family members of individuals killed as a result of someone’s reckless and negligent behavior can file a lawsuits. Parents, spouses, siblings and children are the most likely to initiate this kind of claim. With the assistance of a wrongful death lawyer, these “heirs” must prove that the defendant exhibited unlawful behavior at the time of the incident. In cases involving automobile accidents and deaths, personal injury attorneys must show that the at-fault driver exhibited extremely thoughtless and dangerous behavior without regard to the safety of those around him.
Wrongful Death Claims and Vehicle Accidents–the Difference Between Murder and Homicide
Wrongful death claims can also be based on whether the conduct of a defendant is criminal, justifiable or unjustifiable. For example, if a drunk driver hits and kills a pedestrian and is later convicted of involuntary manslaughter, they can also be slapped with a wrongful death claim by the deceased’s family. Individuals convicted of a justifiable or excusable homicide, i.e., homicide without criminal intent, can also be taken to court over a wrongful death claim. An example of an excusable homicide would be someone defending others, using their vehicle as a form of self-defense or a police officer who accidentally kills someone while on duty. Wrongful death claims can also be brought against people charged with first degree murder (premeditated murder), second degree murder (no premeditation involved) and manslaughter/third degree murder.
Wrongful Death Claims are Civil Cases
Criminal cases are always filed by public prosecutors on behalf of states and involve juries that must find beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant is guilty of a crime. Wrongful death claims and other civil tort cases must be filed by the family of the victim to receive compensation for their benefit. Families and their attorneys must prove the tort underlying wrongful death lawsuits and convince juries by only a preponderance of the evidence, that the defendant is guilty of extreme negligence. This is one of the primary differences between civil cases and criminal cases–reasonable doubt vs lower burden of proof–and the reason why defendants can be found innocent of criminal charges but still be guilty (liable) in wrongful death lawsuits.
If you are considering filing a wrongful death claim, be aware that the defendant’s attorney will be examining details of any relationship that once existed between the deceased and the defendant. This information will be brought forth in open court. Plaintiffs and their attorneys may also conduct investigations into the defendant’s past and present activities to boost their case. Accomplished through a discovery process, this investigation can force the defendant to hand over emails, documents and other types of evidence pertinent to your case. If a wrongful death suit is based on reckless, negligent behavior, the discovery can show that the defendant deliberately chose to ignore risks to the safety of the victim.
Damages Recovered in Wrongful Death Claims
Lost wages, financial support that was once provided by the deceased, burial and funeral cost and other expenditures that could have been reasonably anticipated by dependents of the deceased are some of the damages obtained in wrongful death suits. Damages may also include being denied emotional support as a result of someone dying due to the reckless behavior of another. Personal injury attorneys experienced in litigating wrongful death claims can tell you whether your case warrants financial, emotional or a combination of compensatory damages.
The O.J. Simpson Wrongful Death Claim
A famous example of a wrongful death claim occurred after O.J. Simpson was acquitted of murder charges. Even though he was found innocent of murdering Nicole Simpson and Ron Goldman, the family of Ron Goldman filed a wrongful death claim against O.J. Simpson. Ultimately, a civil jury found Simpson liable for battery and wrongful death against Goldman. Although Simpson was ordered to pay over $33 million in damages, the Goldman family only received about $500,000 after Simpson was forced to auction off most of his valuable belongings. In addition, the Goldman family attempted to collect O.J.’s yearly pension of $28,000 but did not prevail in that lawsuit.
Learn more about filing a wrongful death claim by contacting Friedl Richardson Trail Lawyers and scheduling a free consultation. If you live in Glendale, Scottsdale, Phoenix and surrounding areas, please call us at (602) 553-2220.
For residents of Parker, Bullhead City, Kingman and Lake Havasu City, call (928) 706-5955.