What Are the Elements of a Successful Wrongful Death Claim?

Categories: Personal Injury

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When a loved one dies because of someone’s negligence or purposeful acts, surviving family members are allowed to file for compensation by suing for wrongful death. Wrongful death cases require family members to prove, using a preponderance of the evidence, that the defendant caused their loved one’s death. To do so, each element of the wrongful death case must be proven by the evidence, including the duty of care, breaching the duty, causing the injury/illness/death, and damages.

A wrongful death suit must be brought by a representative of the estate. The representative represents all interested/impacted parties of the estate, which includes spouses, children, and those financially dependent on the deceased. Damages in these cases are different than that of a personal injury claim and can include additional compensation that you would not receive in an injury case.

Just because a loved one has passed away, even in an accident, does not mean it is a wrongful death case. To see if you have a valid claim, you will want to speak with a wrongful death attorney in the state of Washington. While you wait for your consultation, you can explore the elements of a wrongful death claim and see if these apply to your loss.

The Elements of a Wrongful Death Case That You Must Prove

The legal terminology surrounding wrongful death cases is overly complex. Therefore, you will want an attorney to assist you with determining whether your case sufficiently meets these requirements.

Providing Sufficient Proof of Negligence or Purposeful Acts

While the death of a loved one is tragic, that death must be caused by negligence (or purposeful acts) to qualify as a wrongful death lawsuit. One of the best ways to think of this is if the victim had survived, would they have qualified to file a personal injury lawsuit? If not, then you may not have a wrongful death case.

What If There Is a Criminal Trial Pending?
If your loved one’s death was caused by someone’s criminal act, such as murder or drunk driving, then there may be a corresponding criminal trial. The outcome of a criminal case does not determine whether you have a wrongful death case or not. In fact, a person could be found not guilty in criminal court only to be found liable in civil court for that death.

The reason for this is because the criminal court has a higher standard of proof than civil. In criminal court, the judge or jury must believe beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant caused the death. In civil court, the plaintiff must prove this by a preponderance of the evidence. That means the side with the strongest evidence to convince the judge or jury will prevail. You do not have to convince the jury that the person caused your loved one’s death beyond a reasonable doubt.

Proving That the Defendant Owed a Duty of Care to the Victim

One of the first and most important elements is a duty of care. You must show that the defendant owed a duty of care to the deceased. Without a duty of care, there is no case.

A duty of care will depend on the incident which led to your loved one’s death. For example:

  • Motor Vehicle Accidents – Anyone operating a vehicle must obey the rules of the road. That means obeying all speed limits, not driving while intoxicated (by alcohol or drugs), and obeying all traffic signals.
  • Faulty Products and Product Liability Cases – Companies selling products must make sure that their products are safe for the consumer when used for their intended purpose. They must also put warnings on the label for a consumer to be aware of any risks for using that product, especially if there is a risk of injury or death.
  • Medical Malpractice – A physician or healthcare worker must provide the acceptable standard of care that another medical professional with a similar background would provide. If their actions fall below that standard, then they have breached the standard of care.
  • Premises Liability – Property owners (private and commercial), must ensure that their property is safe for anyone permitted to enter it. That includes keeping sidewalks and walkways clear, ensuring there are no slippery surfaces, and removing any dangerous conditions within a reasonable amount of time.

Breach of That Duty
While establishing there was a duty owed, you must also show that the duty was breached. This is relatively easy once you know the duty owed to the victim. For example, someone who was speeding and caused a fatal motor vehicle accident had a duty to obey all traffic laws, disobeyed them/breached them, and caused a fatal accident as a result.

Establishing a Connection to the Breach and Your Loved One’s Death

You must show that the breach of care led to your loved one’s death. If a person was speeding but did not cause the accident that led to your loved one’s death, then they would not be at fault. You must show how that breach led to your loved one’s death or injury, which often requires the use of accident reconstruction, expert witnesses, and eyewitness testimony.

Proving Damages Exist

Another important element is damages. Without damages, there is no reason to file a wrongful death case. Some common damages in these types of cases include:

  • Funeral and burial costs
  • Loss of future income or financial support
  • Loss of companionship or household support
  • Medical expenses associated with the accident or incident that led to death

Hiring the Right Attorney for Your Wrongful Death Case

If you recently lost a loved one, and you feel that you may have a case for wrongful death, contact an attorney right away. The team at Brett McCandlis Brown & Conner, PLLC, can help you with your case. Our compassionate attorneys understand the elements required in a wrongful death case, and more importantly, we understand what you are going through. We want to make sure your family is not left without. And while no amount of money can make up for the loss of a loved one, we fight hard for the compensation you need so that you are not struggling financially while still coping with your loss.

Call today to schedule a free case evaluation or contact us online to get started.

Author Photo

Matt Conner

Matt Conner has a proven track record of success. Following his graduation from Willamette University with a double major in mathematics and economics, Matt worked as an economist for the Office of Economic Analysis for the State of Oregon before moving onto working in mortgage banking and real estate.