Wrongful Death: The Laws Surrounding Loss
Wrongful death, a tragedy under any circumstances. No one wants to think about the loss of a loved one or having to spend the rest of their lives without someone close to them. When a person is in good health, enjoying a successful, fulfilling life only to pass away suddenly, the shock and upheaval for a family is immense.
It’s for these reasons that when a beloved family member passes away due to the negligence of another person, either because of an accident, medical malpractice, or other unforeseen circumstances, the victim’s surviving family members have the right to bring litigation against the individual, doctor, hospital, or employer responsible for the death.
This writeup will approach wrongful death by answering the following questions:
- Why is the financial burden of wrongful death so high?
- Why does civil law differ from criminal law in wrongful death cases?
- What is the “standard of proof” in Personal Injury Law?
- What’s necessary for a wrongful death claim to proceed?
- How does wrongful death occur?
- What’s considered a successful outcome in wrongful death cases?
- Why do surviving family members require an experienced wrongful death lawyer?
Why is the financial burden of wrongful death so high?
The financial burden of wrongful death is enormous. While nothing can ever replace the loss of a loved one in the lives of their family, life must go on, and bills must be paid. That being understood, the financial burden placed upon them after a loss can be immeasurable. A once financially stable family can be thrown in chaos, risk losing their home and stability when the head of household passes away.
During trial, financial compensation awarded to the victim’s family can help to reduce stress, medical bills, and funeral expenses incurred due to someone else’s negligence that ultimately resulted in loss of life. An experienced lawyer can obtain financial compensation on behalf of a surviving family after losing a loved one to a wrongful death accident, medical malpractice, or negligent security.
Why does civil law differ from criminal law in wrongful death cases?
One of the most important things to know about potential wrongful death litigation, is that regardless of liability the negligent person may not be convicted of a crime in association with the death. However, in this writeup we will be looking at the area of Personal Injury Law known as “wrongful death” from the standpoint of a Board Certified civil trial lawyer.
The reason for separating the two areas of the law has an important purpose: There are multiple differences between lawsuits that are filed by a Board Certified lawyer and wrongful death lawsuits that become criminal cases and ultimately, convictions.
What is the “standard of proof” in Personal Injury Law?
The first thing we’ll approach is the legal principle known as preponderance of evidence versus what’s frequently mistaken for beyond a reasonable doubt.
In civil cases, “standard of proof” is what the law calls a preponderance of evidence.
To better understand this in the context of a wrongful death lawsuit and, as it pertains to Personal Injury Law, let’s look at the legal definition of the term:
“[…]the greater weight of the evidence required in a civil (non-criminal) lawsuit for the trier of fact (jury or judge without a jury) to decide in favor of one side or the other.”
Looking at the context of a civil lawsuit in regards specifically to Personal Injury, the court would use “preponderance of evidence” to determine the standard of proof, not “beyond a reasonable doubt”, which is found in criminal court cases.
However, as we go more in-depth readers will find that the “standard of proof” is just one area of a lawsuit and that many factors play into a successful outcome for an injured party. In cases of a wrongful death, the client (or clients, plural) would be the surviving family members of the victim. Several elements go into a lawyer successfully obtaining compensation when wrongful death is determined to have occurred
What’s necessary for a wrongful death claim to proceed?
Next, let’s list the aspects necessary to make up a successful wrongful death lawsuit that results in a verdict that awards maximum compensation for the victim’s surviving family:
- The death of a human being
- The death must be caused by the negligence of another or with intent (to cause harm, to maim or kill) such as through medical malpractice or negligent security
- Surviving family who suffer financial injury because of the loss
- Appointing of a personal representative for the deceased’s estate
How does wrongful death occur?
The circumstances surrounding what makes up a wrongful death lawsuit make up the rest of a successful verdict:
- Medical malpractice
- Nursing home abuse and/or neglect
- Occupational exposure that are not considered occupational hazards (i.e.: toxic substances, hazardous conditions, negligent security)
- Criminal actions such as assault, battery, or a shooting
- Death during an activity with supervision
What’s considered a successful outcome in wrongful death cases?
Financial injury is the measure of damages used in a wrongful death lawsuit. This is also known as “pecuniary injuries” and can include: loss of support, termination of inheritances, medical and funeral expenses for the deceased, and any other financial needs that are no longer met for the family after the death.
It’s also important to look at how “pecuniary loss” is determined by law, and in the next section we will do so.
When financial injury is determined, age, health of the deceased prior to the negligence that caused the injury, the deceased’s earning capacity, their life expectancy and intelligence are all factored in the compensation a lawyer hopes to ultimately obtain on behalf of the client, usually during trial. The surviving family members circumstances are also taken into consideration by the judge during this phase of the case.
How are circumstances of wrongful death appropriately determined?
The main thing the court will look at when determining damages to be awarded are the circumstances surrounding the deceased at the time of his or her death. Simply put:
- Loss of income; if unemployed at the time of death, a jury considers the deceased’s last known earnings and awards based in part on this information, as well as the potential for future earnings, now lost
- Loss of a parent: parental guidance is considered when determining damages to be awarded
- If the decedent had dependents at the time of death, their children are considered as they were the adult wage earner in the home
Why do surviving family members require an experienced wrongful death lawyer?
While difficult and overwhelming for the family, an experienced Board Certified lawyer can help mitigate the stress and emotional turmoil caused by a wrongful death. Experienced Board Certified legal representation knows the ins and outs of the legal system.
It’s important to act quickly, because the Statute of Limitations in the state of Florida is (2) two years from the time of death. If you exceed the Statute of Limitations, the case will be dismissed no matter how valid the claim.
While it may seem like a simple process, wrongful death claims are more complicated for lawyers without prior experience than it looks. This is why a Board Certified lawyer’s experience and prior successes with similar cases are of utmost importance.