Did you know that 250,000 people die each year due to medical errors? That is in addition to scores of other wrongful death cases involving car accidents, faulty products, among others.
When you lose a loved one, it can be painful. But to lose them due to the negligent or reckless behavior of another person is downright excruciating.
If you want to bring a wrongful death suit on behalf of your loved one, here are the things you will need to prove.
- 1 Understanding a Wrongful Death Suit
- 2 Most Common Causes of Wrongful Death
- 3 Proving Fault for Wrongful Death Cases
- 4 Get the Justice You Deserve for Your Loved One
Understanding a Wrongful Death Suit
A wrongful death suit occurs when one person dies due to another person’s reckless or negligent actions.
Before the creation of wrongful death, the loved ones of a deceased couldn’t bring a case. Back then, the law looked at it as the case dying when the plaintiff died.
Wrongful death and survivor statutes are in place to compensate close family members and the dependants of the deceased.
Most Common Causes of Wrongful Death
Many reasons can lead to wrongful death, and they include but are not limited to:
1. Product Liability
When someone dies due to the defectiveness of a product, then the manufacturer is to be held liable for it. As a result, many producers of goods take especial care to test their products before they hit the market.
Typical examples here include defective pharmaceutical products and instances where pharmaceutical manufacturers don’t warn patients on adverse reactions. Unsafe products for children and toxic food products that result in death are also other common causes.
2. Medical Malpractice
Every doctor is required to offer a standard of care to patients when they seek medical attention.
If a medical practitioner does not provide the level of care that another practitioner facing similar circumstances would, then that may qualify as medical malpractice.
The most common issues that lead to medical malpractice are the misdiagnosis of a condition or failure to diagnose one. Errors that occur during surgeries or when patients are receiving treatment are also common causes.
In certain rare cases, outright recklessness does end up causing a patient’s wrongful death.
3. Car Accidents
Car accidents are perhaps the most common cause of wrongful deaths due to the sheer number of both drivers and passengers on the roads.
For many car accidents that result in fatalities, a degree of negligence or recklessness is usually evident. Drunk driving, driving while under the influence of illegal narcotics, or even driving while texting are some such cases.
If such circumstances apply, the driver might be liable for the deaths of those involved.
At times, an accident can occur due to an issue with the road. The liable party for wrongful death in such scenarios tends to be the local authority in charge of the roads.
Proving Fault for Wrongful Death Cases
When you are bringing a wrongful death lawsuit, the burden of proof is on the representative filing the case to prove fault. Essentially, if you bring such a case, you will need to show fault similar to what the deceased would have needed to if they had not died.
A wrongful death claim has its basis in a statue of which all 50 states have (though it varies by state).
There are four elements you must prove for a wrongful death suit to be successful, and we will look at each one in detail.
1. Proving Duty
For you to establish there was a breach of care, you must first show that indeed there was an expectation of duty. In the absence of any duty of care, there can’t be any negligence.
The particular definition of duty of care can vary with each context. However, the common theme is that it’s the duty one person has to keep another person safe.
For example, in a wrongful death suit where a driver was speeding and killed a pedestrian, the duty of care would be safe driving. In other words, the driver would have been expected to operate a vehicle in a manner a reasonably prudent person would.
In a wrongful death case, it’s the judge and not the jury that decides if there was a duty of care owed by the defendant.
The judge will have to take into consideration the consequences of public policy on finding a duty of care in similar cases when weighing their decision.
Other factors for the judges’ consideration will include the predictability of the harm, the defendant’s moral blame, and the connection between the defendant’s acts to the harm.
2. Prove Breach of Duty
Once you successfully prove that there was a duty of care owed by the defendant, you will then have to show how the defendant breached it.
Going with our previous example above, you would have to produce evidence to show that the driver wasn’t focused on the road when they knocked down and killed the pedestrian.
That is not something a reasonably prudent driver would do, and as such, they breached the duty of care with their actions.
Note that you will have to convince the jury that your version of the facts was more than 50% likely to occur, to make your case.
3. Prove Causation
Causation is where you link the defendant’s breach of duty with the harm that befell the deceased. It must be clear that the deceased died due to the defendant’s lack of duty of care.
Using our running example, you would have to prove that it was the defendant’s act that actually knocked down the deceased party and not another car.
If in this scenario, another vehicle had fatally hit the deceased before the defendant knocked them down, the jury would not hold the defendant’s breach of duty as what caused the harm.
However, if the previous car had hit and seriously wounded the deceased, but the defendant, through a breach of duty, knocked down and killed the deceased, then the jury would likely declare the defendant caused the deceased harm.
Proving causation can become complicated, and you need a highly experienced wrongful death attorney to help you navigate it.
4. Proving Damages
You’ll have to show evidence that the decedent’s death led to quantifiable damages such as hospital bills, funeral, and burial expenses, before their death.
It’s possible to prove duty, breach of duty, and causation but lose the case if there was no quantifiable indicator of the extent of the harm.
Get the Justice You Deserve for Your Loved One
When a loved one dies, it hurts. But when they pass on due to another person’s negligent and reckless act, it can be harrowing. In looking for justice and compensation through wrongful death cases, representatives of a loved one will have to prove the four vital elements that pin fault on the defendant.
Are you looking to learn more about a case you might have? Check out our other articles for key legal insights that can help inform your consultation with a lawyer to make your case.