Four Key Elements To Prove in a Wrongful Death Lawsuit

wrongful death lawsuitHas someone in your family died as a result of someone else’s negligence or reckless actions? If so, a wrongful death lawsuit may be the necessary next step. However, there are specific challenges to proving wrongful death in court. 

Fortunately, a legal professional can help you collect evidence, build your case, and argue it in front of a judge or jury. But what exactly will you need to prove to win your family’s wrongful death suit? 

Wrongful death and personal injury liability cases require that you prove the same four elements. Here are the four key elements you should be prepared to prove if you wish to recover damages for a wrongful death:

1. The plaintiff’s death was due to the defendant’s negligence.

Simply having someone die wholly or partially due to someone else’s actions does not mean that the situation is a wrongful death. 

For example, if a surgeon warns a patient about their risk of death and receives consent to perform the medical procedure, the death of the patient might not meet the criteria for a wrongful death. The patient’s death might be the result of medical complications, existing health conditions, or other factors that a surgeon has no control over. These circumstances do not rise to the level of wrongful death (or in this case, medical malpractice wrongful death).

Instead, the victim’s family would need to prove that specific reckless actions or negligent actions or inactions caused the death. In our example of a surgeon, this could include showing that the medical professional failed to adequately perform the surgery. Generally, if you could show that reckless behavior caused the surgery to fail, or that negligence led to a surgeon failing to take corrective actions when an error occurred, then you can show fault. 

Likewise, a victim’s death must be the direct result of situations that someone else could influence but failed to by acting reckless or negligent.

One example of a time when someone would be found liable for death is after a car accident. A typical car accident that’s half one driver’s fault and half the others would not normally reach the level of wrongful death. However, if one driver was under the influence of alcohol or impairing substances, then their choice to drive is reckless behavior. If you could prove that the driver’s actions led to your loved one’s death, then they will be found liable in a wrongful death suit.

2. Duty was owed to the victim, but there was a breach of duty.

Another factor you should prove in court is that there was a breach of duty by the defendant. For instance, a driver has a duty to other drivers, pedestrians, and the public to follow traffic laws. Failure to do so by driving under the influence is a breach of their duty to be a responsible driver. 

In any wrongful death lawsuit, you can identify a breach of duty. This might be a doctor’s duty to care for a patient, a manufacturer’s duty to supply safe products, or a motorist’s duty to obey traffic laws.

3. How the defendant’s actions resulted in death.

There must be a causal link between the actions the defendant takes and the victim’s death. If for instance, a driver gets into an accident with a drunk driver and a month later, the victim in the drunk driving case suffers from a stroke, there’s not a causal link. 

In other words, the car accident was not the cause of death, and therefore the drunk driver would not be liable. However, if the stroke was caused by injuries sustained in the drunk driving accident, then the drunk driver could be found liable.

4. The victim has quantifiable damages.

Several damages often come with wrongful deaths. These can involve hospitalization costs, burial costs, medical expenses, loss of life, loss of income, and several others. 

Your attorney can help all affected parties determine the types and amounts for damages due to the wrongful death case.

Do you need professional advice to help decide whether to file a wrongful death lawsuit?

Wrongful death suits require coordination from all relatives in a household. If you believe that a family member’s death was due to someone else’s negligent or reckless actions, it’s important to speak with an attorney right away. 

The law office of Lytal, Reiter, Smith, Ivey & Fronrath will be glad to discuss your case and inform you of your rights. During a free, no-obligation consultation, we will let you know whether you have a case based on the circumstances. From there, we will discuss the next steps for recovering damages for your loved one’s wrongful death. Call us at (561) 655-1990 or use the live chat feature on our website to speak with a representative today.