Wrongful death is not a crime, but it can involve a crime that caused or is associated with a person’s death. However, the circumstances that lead to a wrongful death lawsuit might subject the at-fault party to criminal charges in a separate court proceeding. Also, a person held responsible for a person’s death may or may not be convicted of a crime related to or involving that death.
As the Legal Information Institute (LII) explains, a wrongful death action is a civil action in which a plaintiff holds the defendant accountable for causing someone else’s death by failing to do something to prevent it or through willful action. The party who can bring a wrongful death lawsuit varies by state, but many allow close relatives to file suit.
When someone loses their life due to another party’s negligent behavior, their families and loved ones may qualify for compensation for the damages they suffered because of their loss. While they may file a wrongful death lawsuit on their own, a wrongful death lawyer can ensure they file within the required time frame and avoid preventable delays.
Different Types of Court Cases
In general, the United States court system consists of two separate bodies of law. While certain cases can end up in both courts, they involve entirely different purposes, processes, and outcomes. As Rasmussen College notes, criminal law involves crimes and their punishments, while civil law involves an individual’s private rights.
Wrongful death crimes do not exist because wrongful death cases take place in a civil court, not a criminal court. This type of proceeding allows the decedent’s family members and other survivors to sue an individual accused of causing their loved one’s death due to their negligence. They pursue a wrongful death lawsuit to obtain financial recovery from the individual. To prove negligence, the plaintiff or their lawyer must demonstrate that:
- The defendant had a duty of care to the decedent.
- The defendant breached their duty of care.
- Their breach of duty led to the death of the decedent.
- Their death led to significant financial damages for their family or the estate.
Civil cases give decedents and their survivors the opportunity to seek compensation for injuries that someone else caused. If the defendant meets the legal criteria for negligence, the decedent’s loved ones may qualify for financial awards.
Unlike civil cases, which deal with disputes between two people or parties, criminal cases involve an individual’s offenses against the government. The types of punishments between the two also differ; while civil cases may force the defendant to provide decedents and their families with compensation, criminal cases often result in incarceration or probation for the defendant.
Civil and Criminal Litigation May Take Place at the Same Time
In some cases, a decedent’s family may take a defendant who faces charges in a criminal court to civil court to pursue financial recovery. For example, if law enforcement arrests an individual accused of committing homicide, they will likely have to go through the criminal court process to determine their guilt and the potential punishment for their crimes.
Regardless of the criminal court’s verdict, the family or estate of the deceased individual can take the accused to civil court for wrongful death, too. Civil court proceedings will not change or affect the outcome of the defendant’s criminal case. Still, if deemed liable in civil court, they must provide financial recovery for the damages suffered by the decedent’s loved ones.
Who Can File a Wrongful Death Case
Just as each state has its own statute of limitations that determines how long a party has to file a wrongful death lawsuit, it also has its own requirements as to who can pursue it. Certain states require the personal representative of the decedent’s estate to file a wrongful death lawsuit, others give family members the option, and some allow either party to file suit.
States also determine which family members qualify to file a wrongful death lawsuit, and some allow unrelated individuals who depended on the decedent for financial support to sue as well. How the plaintiff must distribute the settlement and to whom also varies by state. A lawyer can help individuals determine if they can file a wrongful death lawsuit for their loved ones.
Types of Damages a Defendant May Pursue in a Wrongful Death Case
The types and awards potentially available to the decedent’s loved ones depend on the specific circumstances of the case, including the extent of financial damages and the long-term effects on the survivors. Family members may qualify for one or more types of compensation, such as payment for:
- Medical bills
- Lost wages
- Loss of future income
- Loss of companionship, loss of consortium
- Funeral and burial expenses
If you have a wrongful death case for a person who died in police custody, in jail, prison, or in a Community Corrections program, lost wages are not typically an issue. However, if you have a wrongful conviction and a wrongful death situation to deal with, you can work with a wrongful incarceration attorney and a wrongful death lawyer to seek damages from the responsible agency. You might be eligible for compensation for medical bills, funeral expenses, loss of future income, etc. In some situations, your attorneys might go after punitive damages if they can prove the responsible parties acted with gross negligence and disregard toward the inmate’s constitutional rights.
A Lawyer Can Help You Take Legal Action
A claim of wrongful death is not a crime but a civil action. You may still have the opportunity to hold the party responsible for your loved one’s death accountable in a civil court case. If you lost someone you love due to another person’s negligence, our lawyers might be able to help you pursue financial awards for the damages caused by your loss. Contact Ben Crump Law, PLLC, today at 800-959-1444 to speak with our legal team about your free case evaluation.