The death of a loved one is never easy for those left behind. It’s a life-changing, emotional experience that can feel impossible to move forward from. It’s even more difficult to heal when you know that your loved one was lost due to the negligent actions of someone else.
The term “wrongful death” is used in legal proceedings surrounding these kinds of losses. To accuse someone of wrongful death means that you make a legal claim that their actions contributed to, and made them liable for, the death of the victim.
This type of lawsuit is usually undertaken by close relatives of the deceased, who have significant reasons to believe the accused could have prevented their loved one’s death. These suits are most commonly sought in cases where the deceased died of a car wreck, medical malpractice, or a workplace accident, but there are a variety of other circumstances that could apply.
If you’re considering a wrongful death lawsuit due to the loss of a loved one, here’s what you need to know to navigate the process.
Defining Wrongful Death: What Does The Law Consider Negligence
Wrongful death suits are often seen as an easier alternative to pursuing a murder charge, or as a follow-up action when a murder charge has failed. This is due in part to famous wrongful death cases, like the one involving O.J. Simpson, for example.
Simpson was found not guilty in a criminal trial for the murder of two people. He was later found guilty and ordered to pay compensation, in a wrongful death suit for the same murders. His case isn’t the first to turn out that way, so the theory that a wrongful death case is easier to prove is understandable.
That doesn’t, however, mean that the theory is true. Wrongful death suits come with unique complications of their own.
There are four elements you must be able to prove to a jury to win a wrongful death lawsuit. They are negligence, breach of duty, causation, and damages.
To prove negligence, your attorney must provide evidence that careless or reckless actions taken by the defendant were at least partially responsible for the death of the victim.
To prove breach of duty, your attorney must be able to prove that the defendant had a duty to the victim, and that that duty wasn’t fulfilled. A helpful example would be a doctor failing to provide necessary medical care to their patient.
To prove causation, your attorney will have to show evidence that the breach of duty that was performed led directly to the victim’s death. Returning to the example from before, let’s say that the defendant is a doctor who failed to provide necessary medical treatment to their patient.
It is up to your lawyer to draw a direct line between that decision to withhold care, and the death of the patient.
Finally, your lawyer must show proof of quantifiable damages that indicate the need for financial compensation. This could include showing the cost your family paid for a funeral, a significant balance of unpaid medical bills, or a record of how much income your family has lost due to your loved one’s passing.
As you can see, the law takes the process of defining wrongful death, and convicting someone for it, very seriously.
Pursuing A Charge: What You Should Expect When Seeking Justice
A wrongful death lawsuit can be a long process, so it’s best to be prepared and know the steps ahead of time.
You’ll start by consulting with an experienced wrongful death attorney, who’s familiar with your local laws. So if you live in Illinois, you might choose an attorney from Chicago. This ensures that you have an attorney who is fully qualified to represent you at trial.
Then, you must obtain a copy of your loved one’s death certificate and appoint an administrator or personal representative for the deceased. After that, the incident must be investigated to identify potential liability.
Once that’s done, all surviving family members who qualify to participate in the lawsuit will need to be identified, official paperwork will need to be filed, and the extent of your damage claims will need to be determined.
At this point, the case will either go to mediation, trial, or your attorney will inform you that there’s no way to move forward. If you’re allowed to move forward, it’s important to note that how much a potential settlement could be will depend on where you live.
If you’re in Chicago, for instance, you live in a state that doesn’t have caps on non-economic damages. That means you can seek more money for things like trauma and suffering, as well as the damages we mentioned earlier.
Choosing The Right Representation: How To Ensure Your Case Is Handled Properly
If you believe you have a case and you’re ready to get justice for your loved one, it’s time to choose a wrongful death attorney. So how can you ensure you choose the right representation?
Hire an attorney with a proven track record of success in wrongful death cases, a good rating with the Better Business Bureau, and who offers free consultations to help you understand the feasibility of your case.
The lawyer you choose should make you feel confident that they’ll fight for your loved one, and your family, throughout the trial to get the best outcome.
Navigating the laws surrounding wrongful death can be difficult. Now that you know more about the process, you can make an informed decision about whether or not it’s something you should pursue.