Proving Fault in a Wrongful Death Claim

by Lina Martinez

Screen Shot 2019-07-11 at 10.22.44 PM.png

If the death of an individual is a result of another individual or entity’s negligent acts, his or her surviving family members might be legally entitled to file a civil claim called wrongful death to obtain damages from the individual liable for the death. Every state has its own wrongful death claims statutes. That means if your loved one lived and died in Long Beach, you need to consult a wrongful death lawyer in California.   That said, there are certain rules common among all states regarding the elements and nature of wrongful death claims.

What Exactly is a Wrongful Death Claim?

A wrongful death case is a civil lawsuit to seek monetary damages. It is not the same as a criminal charge wherein an attorney or prosecutor might file against the liable party. Likewise, a criminal charge usually leads to some form of punishment such as imprisonment and/or fines, but it won’t lead to any damage awards to the plaintiff. That means you can only obtain damages via a civil claim.

What You Need to Prove in Your Wrongful Death Claim

After you’ve filed your claim, you need to demonstrate to the court how the negligent actions of the defendant resulted in the death of your loved one before the court could award you damages. In general, you should prove the following wrongful death claim elements:

Screen Shot 2019-07-11 at 10.22.55 PM.png
  • Duty of Care: You need to show evidence that the defendant owed your loved one a duty of care. For instance, in the event that your loved one died due to an auto accident, you should show the court that it was the obligation of the defendant to drive carefully and follow the traffic laws when using the road.

  • Breach of Duty: You must show proof that the liable individual breached the “duty of care” he owes your loved one. Following the auto accident example above, you must have evidence that the defendant did not observe the traffic laws, such that he ran a red light or was driving recklessly and caused the auto accident that killed your loved one.

  • Causation: Aside from giving undeniable proof for the above elements, you need to clearly show that the negligent actions of the defendant directly caused your loved one’s wrongful death. That means even if you can prove that the defendant was driving recklessly, he cannot be held accountable for your loved one’s death if it was a result of something else, like a mechanical defect in your loved one’s car.

It is also crucial to note that some wrongful death cases can be based on claims that the intentional actions of the defendant led to another individual’s death. In this case, that would be an intentional tort instead of a negligence claim.

Wrongful death claims offer a civil solution for the deceased individual’s surviving family or representatives. Each state has passed specific versions of laws regarding wrongful death and these specify the state’s wrongful death rules, who can file a claim, and the types of damages you can receive from a wrongful death claim.