If you have lost a loved one in an accident caused by someone else, you may qualify for what is known as a wrongful death claim. To sue for wrongful death, you must prove that the defendant caused the incident that led to your loved one’s death. Proving fault is not always straightforward, especially in wrongful death claims. First, you must understand the elements required and then go about proving that each element applies to your case.
In a wrongful death case, you have four primary elements that you must prove, which include:
- A death occurred;
- The death was caused by someone’s intentional acts or negligence;
- There are qualifying family members who suffered financial losses and can receive compensation; and
- The estate has a personal representative.
Some of these elements are easy to prove while others require professional help. The regulations and procedures for wrongful death claims in the state of Washington are highly complex. It is in your best interest to speak with an attorney who has experience handling these types of claims. While you are waiting for a consultation, you can explore these elements further and see if they apply to your case.
A Death Occurred – but Not All Deaths are Wrongful Deaths
If you lost a loved one in an accident, it does not mean that you automatically qualify for a wrongful death lawsuit. However, a death must occur to file a wrongful death lawsuit. If the victim does not die and survives from the incident, it would be a personal injury lawsuit instead of a wrongful death lawsuit.
The Death Was the Result of Negligent or Intentional Acts
The next element is proving that the death occurred because of someone’s negligence or intentional acts. Negligence covers incidents including car accidents, medical malpractice, and injuries like a trip and fall. Intentional acts are not negligence based because the defendant purposely caused harm. An example of an intentional act would be a homicide.
Sometimes a Criminal Case Goes along with a Wrongful Death Case
In some cases, the defendant may be charged with a crime. That crime may involve intentional or negligent acts. You can still file a wrongful death lawsuit even if a criminal case is pending. The verdict in a criminal case could help your claim, but it is not necessary.
Likewise, it is important that you realize the burden of proof is different in a criminal case versus a wrongful death case. In a criminal case, the family is not the one pursuing action against the defendant – the state is. In a wrongful death case, the state plays no role in the claim. Loved ones cannot seek compensation through a criminal court case. They can seek compensation in a wrongful death case.
Also in a criminal case, the state must convince a judge or jury that the defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. That is an incredibly high standard and not always easy to prove. In a wrongful death case, the plaintiff must prove using a preponderance of the evidence that the defendant caused the death of their loved one. That means that the plaintiff has provided enough evidence to show the defendant is at fault more so than the defendant provided evidence of their innocence. The judge or jury overseeing a wrongful death case does not have to believe the defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. That is why there are numerous cases where a defendant will be found not guilty in a criminal trial, but still found at fault for a civil case.
Showing Intent or Negligence Was Legitimate and the Defendant Should Have Reasonably Known They Would Cause Harm
You must show that the defendant reasonably knew their actions would lead to someone’s injury or death. If someone physically attacks another person and they die as a result, it is reasonable to assume that they knew their actions would harm the victim. The same goes for a car accident. If the at-fault driver was speeding and they knew speeding put them at higher risk for causing an accident, then their actions qualify for a lawsuit.
Having Qualified Family Members
While family members do not file the lawsuit outright, there must be qualifying family members to receive the compensation for their loved one’s death. A qualifying family member can include a spouse, surviving children, surviving parents, or another relative who is financially dependent on the deceased. Multiple family members can receive compensation in a wrongful death case, but the percentage of compensation they receive will depend on the type of family member they are and their financial dependency on the deceased.
Having a Personal Representative of the Estate
To file a wrongful death claim, a personal representative of the estate must be named. This party will then file a wrongful death lawsuit on behalf of the deceased’s estate and beneficiaries.
Hiring an Attorney Is the First and Most Important Step
Wrongful death lawsuits are incredibly complicated and highly emotional. It is best to hire a local attorney to assist you with your claim. You want an attorney who has experience handling wrongful death cases. An attorney will not only help you determine if you have a case, but will assist with collecting evidence so that you can prove your case.
While you are mourning the loss of a loved one, it is best to have an advocate by your side, fighting for your right to compensation. An attorney can do just that. Furthermore, an attorney understands what it takes to win these types of cases, and they also understand the procedural guidelines and deadlines that you must meet in order to receive your compensation.
To ensure you get maximum compensation in your case, schedule a free case evaluation today. The attorneys at Brett McCandlis Brown & Conner understand what you and your family are going through. We will serve as your advocates, protect your right to compensation, and fight so that your loved one’s loss is not forgotten.
Schedule a consultation by calling us directly or request more information online.