What Is Needed to Prove Wrongful Death?

Losing a loved one is a tragedy, and the emotional burden can feel unbearable when someone else’s negligence or recklessness causes the death. It may seem daunting to deal with a wrongful death claim, but seeking justice and compensation can help your family move forward after an accident.

A wrongful death lawyer can provide a clear understanding of what you need to do to reach a successful resolution and effectively prove a wrongful death claim.

Duty of Care in Wrongful Death Accident Claims

What Is Needed to Prove Wrongful Death?A fundamental aspect of a wrongful death claim is establishing the existence of a duty of care owed by the defendant to the deceased. A duty of care is a legal obligation for a person to act with reasonable care to avoid causing harm to others. Your attorney can help you determine if such a duty existed between your loved one and the at-fault party and, if so, how the breach occurred.

This duty of care arises when a person or entity bears responsibility for ensuring the safety and well-being of others. Individuals or entities assume this duty when they engage in activities or take actions that could foreseeably harm another person.

Some common situations where a duty of care exists include:

  • Drivers owe a duty of care to other road users, including pedestrians, cyclists, and other motorists.
  • Medical professionals owe a duty of care to their patients when providing treatment and care.
  • Property owners owe a duty of care to visitors by ensuring their premises are reasonably safe and free from hazards.
  • Manufacturers owe a duty of care to consumers by ensuring their products are safe and free from defects that could cause harm.

Factors Considered in Determining the Existence of a Duty of Care

To successfully pursue a wrongful death claim, your attorney must first establish that the defendant owed a duty of care to the deceased. The next step is to show that the defendant breached this duty.

Courts decide whether a duty of care exists and will consider:

  • The foreseeability of the harm: Was it reasonably foreseeable that the defendant’s actions or inactions could harm the deceased?
  • The defendant’s relationship to the deceased: Did the defendant and the deceased have a relationship that imposed a duty of care on the defendant?
  • The degree of control: Could the defendant control the situation or the risk of harm?
  • Public policy: Would imposing a duty of care serve the best interests of the broader community?

Breaching Duty of Care in a Wrongful Death Case

Once your attorney helps you establish the existence of a duty of care, your attorney must then prove that the defendant breached this duty leading to the wrongful death of your loved one. A breach of duty occurs when a person or entity fails to uphold their duty of care, either through negligence, recklessness, or intentional harm.

A breach of duty occurs when a defendant’s action or inaction falls below the required standard of reasonable care and foreseeably harms another person. In wrongful death cases, your attorney must demonstrate that the defendant’s breach of duty directly contributed to the tragic loss of life of your loved one.

Types of Breach

A breach of duty can occur in three primary ways, each with different levels of culpability.

Your lawyer can review your case’s facts and help you determine which breach led to your loved one’s death.

  • Negligence: A defendant is negligent when their conduct falls below the standard of reasonable care. Their negligent behavior results from carelessness or a failure to take proper precautions.
  • Recklessness: Recklessness implies that the defendant was aware of their actions’ potential risks and consequences but disregarded them. Recklessness, therefore, leads to a higher degree of culpability than negligence.
  • Intentional harm: Intentional harm is the most serious breach of duty. It occurs when a defendant intentionally causes harm to another person and displays a deliberate disregard for the victim’s safety and well-being.

Some examples of duty of care breaches in wrongful death cases include:

  • A driver under the influence of drugs or alcohol causes a fatal accident.
  • A medical professional administers the wrong medication or dosage, leading to a patient’s death.
  • A property owner knowingly fails to address hazardous conditions on their premises, resulting in a visitor’s fatal injury.
  • A manufacturer fails to provide safety warnings or test products properly, causing the death of a consumer.

A wrongful death is often preventable were it not for another party’s actions. You have the right to pursue an insurance claim or lawsuit, if necessary, against the parties responsible if you are the surviving family member of a wrongful death victim.

When determining whether a breach of duty occurred, an insurance company or court may consider:

  • The defendant’s knowledge of the risk: Was the defendant aware, or should they have been aware, of the potential risks associated with their actions or inaction?
  • The standard of care: Did the defendant’s conduct fall below the established standard of care required in the specific situation?
  • The reasonableness of the defendant’s actions: Would a reasonable person in the same situation have acted differently to prevent the harm?

Your attorney can gather and present evidence to demonstrate that the defendant’s breach of duty directly resulted in your loved one’s wrongful death. With a clear understanding of the duty of care and breach of duty, the next crucial element is establishing causation in a wrongful death claim.

Causation in Wrongful Death Accidents

Your attorney must demonstrate causation for a successful wrongful death claim. Causation establishes a provable link between the defendant’s breach of duty and the death in question. It is crucial because, without causation, you cannot hold the defendant liable for your loved one’s wrongful death.

Causation requires you to prove the defendant’s breach of duty directly caused or significantly contributed to the wrongful death. Establishing causation can be complex, and your attorney may require substantial evidence and expert witness consultations to support your case.

Establishing Causation

Attorneys can use several tests when determining causation in wrongful death cases. The but-for test is the most common. This test asks whether the wrongful death would have occurred but for the defendant’s duty breach. If the facts show that your loved one would not have died were it not for the defendant’s actions, this establishes causation.

The substantial factor and proximate cause tests can help establish causation under specific circumstances. Your attorney can select the most appropriate test to prove causation in your wrongful death claim or lawsuit.

Examples of causation in wrongful death cases can include:

  • A driver runs a red light and collides with another vehicle, resulting in the death of a passenger in the other car.
  • A doctor misdiagnoses a patient’s condition, leading to improper treatment and the patient’s death.
  • A property owner fails to install smoke alarms, and a fire occurs, leading to a tenant’s death.

When assessing causation, courts will consider:

  • The chain of events: Was the defendant’s breach of duty a significant factor leading to the wrongful death?
  • The foreseeability of the consequences: Were the resulting harm and death reasonably foreseeable consequences of the defendant’s breach of duty?
  • Potential intervening factors: Could any intervening factors or events have broken the causal link between the defendant’s breach of duty and the wrongful death?

Your attorney can analyze these factors and present compelling evidence to demonstrate that the defendant’s breach of duty directly led to your family member’s wrongful death. Damages are the final element to address in a wrongful death claim.

Wrongful Death Claim Damages

Your attorney must demonstrate the damage caused by the wrongful death after they prove causation. Damages in wrongful death cases compensate you for the financial and emotional losses you incurred from your loved one’s untimely death.

Damages in wrongful death cases refer to the monetary compensation awarded to the claimant. The purpose of damages is to place you in the position you would have been in had a wrongful death not occurred.

Damages in wrongful death cases can fall into two categories:

  • Economic damages: These damages cover your financial losses due to the wrongful death, including your loved one’s income, medical expenses, funeral, burial costs, and inheritance loss.
  • Non-economic damages: These damages compensate for your emotional losses, such as pain and suffering and loss of companionship and consortium (the loss of family relationships).

When determining the damages in a wrongful death case, courts will consider:

  • Your loved one’s age, health, and life expectancy.
  • Your loved one’s earning capacity and income at the time of death.
  • Your family’s financial needs and dependency.
  • The emotional impact of your loved one’s death on your family members.

Your attorney can gather evidence and present arguments to support your claim for damages. They may also consult experts, such as economists, to estimate the financial impact of the wrongful death on your family.

Legal Standing To Bring Forward a Wrongful Death Claim

Legal standing refers to the right to bring a wrongful death lawsuit before the court. Not everyone has the legal standing to file a wrongful death claim, as the person must meet specific criteria to ensure appropriate parties pursue compensation.

To bring a wrongful death lawsuit, you must have a legally recognized interest in the case. This means that you must have suffered harm or loss due to the deceased’s death.

Who Can File a Claim Following a Wrongful Death Accident?

Laws regarding who can file a wrongful death lawsuit and how the claim must occur can vary between states.

The following parties may possess legal standing in a wrongful death case:

  • Immediate family members: Spouses, children, and parents of the deceased typically have legal standing to file a wrongful death claim.
  • Life partners and financial dependents: Life partners or individuals who were financially dependent on the deceased may have standing.
  • Distant family members: Siblings or grandparents in some jurisdictions may have standing if the deceased’s death has caused them harm.
  • Estate representatives: The deceased’s estate representative, in some cases, may have standing to file a wrongful death claim on behalf of the estate.

Wrongful Death Statute of Limitations

The statute of limitations establishes the deadline to file a legal claim in court.

You must file a wrongful death claim within the specified time frame because failure to do so can cause permanent loss of your right to pursue compensation. Courts strictly adhere to the statute of limitations and will likely dismiss any claim filed after the designated period has passed.

Your attorney can carefully review the factors influencing the statute of limitations for your wrongful death claim and file your case within the appropriate time frame based on the laws of the state where the wrongful death occurred.

A Wrongful Death Claim Can Help You Following the Unexpected Death of Your Loved One

A wrongful death claim can provide much-needed financial and emotional relief for surviving family members. You can seek legal advice and representation from an experienced wrongful death attorney to significantly improve your chances of successfully proving your case and obtaining the compensation you and your family deserve. Reach out to a personal injury lawyer.