Dealing with the loss of a loved one is, without question, one of life’s most challenging experiences, but when their passing is due to someone else’s negligence or wrongdoing, the situation can feel even more overwhelming.
With that said, if you’re thinking about pursuing a wrongful death lawsuit, you’re likely asking yourself, “How do you prove wrongful death?” The simplest answer is that it’s a complex process, but understanding what facts constitute a wrongful death will help you seek closure and justice on behalf of your loved one.
What Is Wrongful Death?
A wrongful death occurs when a person dies due to the legal fault of another party. Such an outcome can encompass a range of scenarios, from car accidents caused by negligent drivers to medical malpractice or even intentional harm.
The plaintiff is often a close family member, such as a child or spouse, or the executor of the deceased’s estate. In any case, as the plaintiff, you bear the burden of proof, which means it’s up to you to show that the wrongful actions of the defendant directly led to the death of your loved one.
How Do You Prove Wrongful Death Liability?
It’s a question you may have never believed you’d have to ask, but how do you prove wrongful death liability in a civil suit? While each case is unique, there are some common steps you’ll need to navigate, including the following:
1. Establishing Duty of Care
The first step in proving a wrongful death is establishing a duty to care, which means showing that the person or entity you’re filing the suit against (i.e., an assisted living facility) had a responsibility to avoid causing harm to another. For instance, doctors have a duty of care to their patients to provide competent medical treatment, and in a similar vein, drivers are expected to follow traffic laws and drive safely.
In a wrongful death case, you must demonstrate that the defendant had a duty of care to the deceased. If there was no duty of care, there are no grounds for a wrongful death suit.
2. Demonstrating Breach of Duty
After establishing the duty of care, your next step is to prove that the defendant breached that duty, whether through an act of negligence, recklessness, or intentional wrongdoing. For example, if a driver was texting while driving and caused a fatal accident, the act would be a breach of their duty to drive safely.
In some instances, establishing a breach of duty can be relatively simple (in the example above, a driver texting while driving is a clear-cut breach of duty), but if a medical provider makes a judgment call and decides not to render some type of care, for example, proving that their actions were somehow negligent could be more challenging.
3. Linking Breach to Causation
It’s not enough to solely show that the defendant breached their duty of care; you also need to connect that breach directly to the death of your loved one, which is known as causation.
In other words, you must prove that the wrongful actions of the defendant were the direct cause of your loved one’s death, which can often be the most challenging part, as it requires showing a direct link between the breach of duty and the resulting death.
When they are considering causation, the courts will also assess any contributing factors, like other parties involved in the incident or underlying health conditions. While the presence of contributing factors does not necessarily invalidate a wrongful death claim, they can reduce the defendant’s liability.
4. Proving Damages
Finally, you must prove damages. In the context of wrongful death, these refer to the losses resulting from the death, such as:
- Medical expenses incurred before death
- Funeral and burial costs
- Loss of the deceased person’s expected income
- Loss of inheritance
- Loss of companionship, love and comfort, or the loss of affection, assistance, care, and protection
The specific damages involved in your case will vary based on factors such as the deceased’s age, income, and connection to you, but an experienced attorney will be able to help you determine the scope of damages that you may be able to claim based on the unique facts of your case.
Factors Influencing a Wrongful Death Claim
Learning how to prove a wrongful death is only the beginning of your journey toward justice. You also need to familiarize yourself with the various factors that could influence the outcome of your claim, which are as follows:
The Nature of the Negligent Act
The more clear-cut and egregious the act of negligence, the stronger the case. A drunk driving incident, for instance, is far more straightforward with regard to establishing negligence than a complex medical malpractice case. In the former, the offender clearly breached their duty and directly contributed to the death, but in the latter, factors like the deceased’s underlying health conditions are put into play.
The availability and quality of evidence also play a crucial role in your case. It can include everything from eyewitness testimony and police reports to medical records and professional opinions. A great attorney will go above and beyond to gather evidence so they can build a strong case for your claim.
Laws and regulations regarding wrongful death vary by state, which can affect aspects like who can file the lawsuit, the types of damages that are recoverable, and the time frame in which you must file the claim.
Sometimes, there are factors in place that might reduce the amount of damages you can recover. For instance, if the deceased was partially at fault for the incident that led to their death, that would impact the outcome of the case.
The financial impact of your loved one’s death on their surviving family members is also considered. The more your family depended on them financially, the higher the potential damages.
Navigating the Legal Process
Proving wrongful death is a complex and emotionally taxing process, but you don’t need to get discouraged. Remember, you’re not just seeking compensation; you’re also upholding the memory and dignity of your loved one.
Since 1992, our personal injury attorneys at the Pines Salomon Injury Lawyers, APC. have been fighting for the people of San Diego. Now, when those injured in automobile accidents – including car, truck, and motorcycle accidents – need financial help, or for the families that need to know that the loss of a loved one could have been prevented, there is a personal injury law firm in San Diego that is on their side. If you or a family member has been injured, call the lawyers at Pines Salomon Injury Lawyers, APC. There’s never been a better time than right now to speak to a personal injury attorney—FREE of charge. Call us at 858-551-2090 or request a free consultation online today!
SENIOR PERSONAL INJURY ATTORNEY & FIRM FOUNDER
Michael Pines is a former insurance company attorney who graduated from the University of California Hastings College of the Law in 1987. While he was an insurance attorney, he learned from behind the scenes how insurance companies work and how they decide how much to pay injured people. Now that he works against insurance companies, Michael’s inside knowledge has resulted in significant benefits to his clients injured in car accidents. Learn more about Michael Pines