If a close family member has passed away as the result of the negligence of a third party, you may want to consider filing a wrongful death claim. Unlike criminal prosecution, a wrongful death claim is a civil lawsuit that allows family members to receive damages for the loss of a loved one. Unfortunately, winning a wrongful death claim is often difficult. Here are three factors involved in proving a wrongful death claim.
The Defendant Owed a Duty of Care
To prove that the deceased party's death was caused by the negligence of the defendant, the defendant must have been responsible in some way for the deceased party's well-being. This responsibility is known as the defendant's "duty of care," and it will differ on a case-by-case basis. In cases where the defendant was not personally involved with the deceased party, the duty of care typically refers to following applicable laws and not doing anything that violates the implicit "social contract" and puts bystanders at risk.
There are several examples of duty of care that could be applicable to your case. If your loved one was killed in a car accident involving the defendant, you will need to prove that the defendant was violating a traffic law and endangering other drivers on the road. Speeding, reckless driving, driving under the influence, and running red lights are all examples of ways that the defendant may have breached their duty of care.
Landowners also have specific responsibilities they must perform to maintain the safety of tenants and visitors to their property. If you are renting and there is an unsafe condition in your residence or apartment common grounds, it is the landlord's responsibility to repair the unsafe condition if it could lead to accidental injury or death. Examples include broken steps or a lack of safety features such as smoke alarms.
The Breached Duty of Care Led to the Death
Even if you can prove that the defendant breached their duty of care, you must be able to demonstrate a direct causal link between the defendant's actions and the death of your family member. If there are other parties involved in the incident, you must show that the defendant's actions specifically caused the fatal injury.
To expand on the auto accident example, if there are multiple vehicles involved in an accident, you must be able to show that the collision with the defendant's vehicle caused the fatal injury. If the defendant was involved and injured the deceased party, but another vehicle caused the death, the defendant cannot be held liable for wrongful death.
For a landowner to have breached their duty of care by failing to repair an unsafe condition on their premises, they must have failed to repair the condition within the amount of time it would take a reasonably prudent person to do. This means you cannot win a wrongful death case against your landlord if the unsafe condition had just developed or if you didn't make an attempt to notify them. If you notified the landlord about the problem and they failed to remedy it within a period of months, you have a good chance to win the case.
Proving Damages is Not Necessary
In most negligence claims, the plaintiff is required to prove that the defendant's actions led to monetary damages, even if the defendant is found to have breached their duty of care. However, you will not have to prove damages in a wrongful death case. Damages are presumed because immediate family members are always responsible for paying for funeral costs and sometimes emergency medical care.
Wrongful death cases are difficult because the burden of proof is on the plaintiff, but they are easier if you know what kinds of proof are expected in court. Use these tips to maximize your chances of winning a wrongful death claim, and seek further legal assistance by contacting professional personal injury lawyers, such as those at Welsh & Welsh PC LLO.