Every wrongful death case takes place in civil court, but each state has its own restrictions as to who can file a civil suit for wrongful death and how the plaintiff must distribute a settlement. While certain civil cases, such as those involving federal law, take place in federal court, states have jurisdiction over wrongful death cases. For this reason, the procedure for wrongful death lawsuits varies based on state requirements.
Wrongful death occurs under many different circumstances, such as drunk driving car accidents and medical malpractice. In fact, according to a study by Johns Hopkins Medicine, medical errors now rank as the third leading cause of death in the United States, with approximately 250,000 victims losing their lives to the negligence of healthcare providers each year.
The death of a loved one often leaves families of victims with not only emotional pain but also financial instability. If you lost someone you love as the result of another person’s negligent or unlawful acts, a lawyer can help you determine if you can file a civil suit for wrongful death.
The Difference Between Civil and Criminal Cases
According to the U.S. Courts, the plaintiff bears the burden of proof in a civil case, whereas the government does in a criminal case. A civil case involves the law of civil or private rights. A criminal case, on the other hand, involves the law of crime and punishment, in which the accused faces the threat of incarceration, probation, or fines.
The Purpose of Civil and Criminal Cases
In civil cases, one party files a lawsuit against another in an effort to obtain financial awards for damages caused by the at-fault party’s actions. The plaintiff has the goal of obtaining compensation. Because wrongful death cases involve seeking financial recovery for a loved one’s death, they always take place in civil court.
Civil and Criminal Cases May Take Place Simultaneously
The actions that lead to a wrongful death case can also lead to criminal charges. For example, an individual may take a defendant to civil court for damages if the defendant committed a fatal assault against the victim, leaving the plaintiff with damages.
The government may also take the defendant to criminal court for the laws they broke in committing the assault. The cases involve separate proceedings and do not affect each other, so the outcome of one case has no bearing on the other.
How to Establish Wrongful Death
In order to establish wrongful death and file a claim against the at-fault party, the claimant or their lawyer must prove that the actions of the defendant meet all of the necessary criteria for legal negligence. These factors include the duty of care, the breach of duty, the injury, and the damages.
Essentially, they must demonstrate that the defendant had a responsibility to exercise reasonable care to maintain the safety of the victim, the defendant breached that duty through an intentional act or by failing to take action, the defendant’s breach of duty caused the victim’s fatal injury, and the victim’s dependents struggle with significant damages as a result.
If you can prove negligence, you may have the option to file a civil suit for wrongful death.
Who Can File a Wrongful Death Claim
Each state has its own method for determining who can file a wrongful death claim. If the decedent has a surviving spouse, some states allow the spouse to pursue legal action as either a qualifying family member or the executor of the decedent’s estate.
In the case of an unmarried decedent, the right to file a civil suit for wrongful death typically falls on either the next family member in line, as determined by the state or the executor of the decedent’s estate. In states in which the decedent did not have a will but the law only allows the executor to file a wrongful death claim, the court may appoint a personal representative of the estate.
Some states allow any family members or dependents of the decedent to file wrongful death claims, including unrelated beneficiaries. In these cases, the court often requires the consolidation of all wrongful death claims concerning a single individual into one lawsuit. Civil rights attorneys can offer further guidance on how to proceed based on the specifics of your case.
A Lawyer Can Help You with Your Wrongful Death Case
If you lost a loved one due to an accident or injury that occurred at no fault of their own, the attorneys at Ben Crump Law, PLLC can help you determine if you have a wrongful death case and seek the financial awards you deserve. We work on a contingency fee basis, so you do not owe us anything unless we achieve results for you. Contact us today at (800) 593-3443 to speak with our legal team.