If the death of a person is due tot he recklessness of another person or party, the surviving family members will often have the legal right to file a civil lawsuit in order to seek compensation for damages from the liable party. This type of lawsuit is known as a wrongful death case. There are specific regulations and rules regarding how to handle a wrongful death claim. However, there are some general rules that can help regarding the circumstances of the wrongful death and claim as well as the procedure which controls the operation of the lawsuit. We are going to discuss some of these issues here, with an emphasis on what proof should be provided in this type of claim.
What is a Wrongful Death Case?
A wrongful death case is a civil suit for financial damages. A civil suit is not the same as criminal charges that may be filed against the defendant by a prosecutor or district attorney. Criminal charges usually result in the punishment of the defendant in the form of a fine or imprisonment. However, in many cases, criminal prosecution does not offer damages to surviving family members after the death of the victim. Compensation for damages can only be obtained through a civil lawsuit.
Who Is Involved in a Wrongful Death Case?
The plaintiff is the individual who is bringing a civil lawsuit. In a wrongful death claim, the plaintiff is usually a close family member who starts the claim on behalf of all relatives of the deceased victim.
If the person who passed had a will, the court will usually appoint an executor or personal representative of the estate. At this time, the plaintiff in the lawsuit is often the estate’s executor or personal representative who brings the lawsuit on behalf of the relatives of the deceased.
The person or party who the lawsuit is brought against is called the “defendant.” The lawsuit will argue that the defendant acted negligently or recklessly, making them responsible for the death of the victim and liable for the damages sustained in the accident.
What Needs to be Proven in a Wrongful Death Case?
After a lawsuit is filed, the plaintiff will have to provide proof of certain elements of a wrongful death claim before they can be awarded any damages.
This means that, essentially, it is the role of the plaintiff to show the court that the defendant acted negligently and that this recklessness directly resulted in the death of the victim. This has to happen before the court will order the defendant to pay any financial damages.
Usually, the plaintiff has to prove the following elements in a wrongful death claim:
- Duty of Care. The plaintiff is required to provide proof to the court that the defendant had a duty of care to the deceased victim. An example could be a case involving a car accident. In this case, the plaintiff would have to provide proof that the defendant was obligated to follow the rules of the road and driver carefully while driving his or her car.
- Breach of Duty of Care. The plaintiff must provide proof that the defendant breached their duty of care that was owed to the plaintiff. If this incident involved a car crash, the plaintiff would have to show that the defendant did not obey applicable traffic laws. These could include speeding or running a stop sign.
- Causation. It is not enough for the plaintiff to just show that the defendant broke the law or breached a duty in another way. The plaintiff must also provide evidence that the defendant’s specific action was the direct reason for the wrongful death. So, even if the defendant ran a stop sign while behind the wheel, the defendant is not liable for the death of the victim if the death was due to another factor, such as a mechanical malfunction of the victim’s car.
The burden of Proof and the Wrongful Death Case
In order to provide proof of the listed elements, the plaintiff has to meet the burden of proof.
Generally, the plaintiff has to prove the elements of negligence through a “preponderance of the evidence.”
Often juries are instructed to evaluate whether it is “more likely than not” that the defendant’s actions resulted in the death of the victim. The burden of proof in a civil case is substantially less than in a criminal case where the standard is “beyond a reasonable doubt.”
The burden of proof is not measured by the amount of evidence brought forth by the plaintiff. As an example, consider a plaintiff who presents a greater number of witnesses at a trial than the defendant. This would not mean that the plaintiff has properly met the burden of proof. Instead, the quality and validity of the evidence presented are measured. In the event that the plaintiff does not meet the burden of proof for any elements of negligence, the plaintiff will not be able to recover any financial damages.
Wrongful Death Accidents in Utah
Every year in California, over 3,000 people are killed due to traffic accidents caused by negligent drivers. These tragic crashes, unfortunately, have an impact on the lives of victims and their surviving families. When someone loses their life as the result of someone else’s reckless actions, the surviving family can contact a Utah area wrongful death attorney to protect their legal rights.
For over 30 years, the Salt Lake City car crash attorneys at Siegfried & Jensen have helped countless families receive justice after the wrongful death of a loved one. Our experienced car accident lawyers are dedicated to helping you cover your damages after losing a family member in an accident, like funeral and medical expenses. We believe in bringing the at-fault party to justice for their responsibility for your injuries. We have helped others win millions to start their lives again after the loss of a loved one, and we can help you. Contact us today at (801) 845-9000 to discuss your claim and see what options we have for you.
Content checked by personal injury attorney Todd Bradford. I worked for a small law firm in Utah County, where I handled various types of cases. My main focus was personal injury and I decided that is what I enjoyed doing the most. I rejoined Siegfried and Jensen in 2012 where my focus is solely on helping personal injury clients. I take pride in helping personal injury clients and enjoy serving them. If you need an attorney for auto accidents or injuries of any kind in Salt Lake City, UT, Ogden, UT, Spokane, WA, or Boise, ID, contact us.