A wrongful death case is a claim against a person who is liable for another person’s death. The closest relatives of the victim file a lawsuit against the responsible party. This is done in a civil suit, which is different from criminal charges (typically bring punishment in the form of fines or jail time).
Criminal prosecution will not award damages to the surviving family members after the victim’s death. Damages can only be received through the civil lawsuit. Contact our Indianapolis wrongful death attorneys for more information today.
Negligence in a Wrongful Death Case
The wrongful death case damages are not the same as those in a standard negligence case. However, when the plaintiff files a wrongful death case lawsuit, they must prove details such as duty, breach of duty, causation, and damages.
The defendant would be responsible for negligence if they have owed the victim a duty of “due care.” The case facts would define the due care, but in general, it means the duty to take action to keep the person safe, or not do a thing that would cause harm to the other person.
If the plaintiff claims that the defendant was a negligent driver that killed the victim, then the plaintiff would argue that they owed the victim a duty of care to drive the vehicle responsibly and carefully.
In such cases, the judge is the one that decides if the defendant owed a duty of due care, and the judge is the one that considers numerous factors when determining if the duty was owed. This includes even the public policy consequences of finding a duty in all similar cases, how predictable the harm was, how certain it is the harm happened, how closely connected the acts of the defendant and the harm were, and the defendant’s moral blame.
Proving breach of duty
If it is determined that a duty exists, the plaintiff must provide evidence that the defendant breached that duty. The plaintiff might provide evidence that the defendant was driving carelessly and was not paying attention to the road when he hit the victim. The fact that they did not pay enough attention to the road is not what a careful driver would do, and by being careless, breached the duty of due care in that situation. The plaintiff would have to convince the jury that their version of the facts is likely to be true more than 50%.
The following step of the plaintiff is proving that the breach of duty led to the defendant harming the victim. Let’s take the same example with the negligent driver. The plaintiff must prove that the defendant’s vehicle (and not some other vehicle) hit the decedent. If some other vehicle had crashed and fatally wounded the victim before the defendant’s car was involved in the accident, then the jury will probably not find that the defendant’s breach of duty added to the death. If the decedent was already severely injured, and the defendant’s breach of duty caused an accident that killed the decedent, then the jury will find the defendant caused the harm. Again, everything depends on the case facts, and the issues of causation can become quite complicated.
The plaintiff must prove that the decedent suffered damages. In a wrongful death case, if a breach of duty and causation exist, the damages will be assumed for obvious reasons (the injured person was killed). In other negligence cases, the plaintiff can prove to prove all the other elements. The plaintiff might lose the case because there is no enough evidence to prove the nature and extent of the alleged harm.
When proving the upper mentioned elements, the plaintiff should meet the “burden of proof.”
The “burden of proof” is differently described in each state. In general it requires the plaintiff to prove the elements of negligence by a “preponderance of the evidence.”
In most cases, the lawsuit is resolved by pre-trial settlement agreements. But, there are cases that can only be settled by going to trial.
Wrongful death is devastating for the surviving family members. Some families often have financial issues after they lose their loved one (especially if the victim was the main financial provider).
If you have lost a loved one in such circumstances and want to get justice on your side, our team at Rowe & Hamilton is here to help you. We offer you a free case evaluation.
Call our firm today and schedule your initial consultation.