Important Evidence in Wrongful Death Cases
As difficult as a loved one’s death can be, their wrongful death makes everything that much harder to bear. However, you need vital evidence to uphold your case to prove wrongful death and achieve closure.
Civil courts handle wrongful death cases rather than criminal courts, so the burden of proof is comparatively lower, but you still need the appropriate evidence to cover the typical elements required for the success of your suit.
If you seek justice on behalf of a loved one who perished due to someone else’s action, you need to hire an attorney to help you determine the best strategy moving forward.
What Is Wrongful Death?
A wrongful death occurs when an individual dies due to negligence or misconduct on the part of another person. Murder is a proximate cause of wrongful death but so are medical malpractice, occupational hazards, and abuse.
Surviving family members may sue in civil court for monetary damages even if the defendant was acquitted of a crime, although many such lawsuits follow criminal suits.
To qualify as wrongful death, these elements must be present:
- The death of a human being
- The death was caused by another’s negligence or with intent to harm
- Survival of family members who are suffering monetary injury as a result of that death
- The appointment of a personal representative for the decedent’s estate (often the executor named in the will)
Who can file is governed by state law. Some states only allow an immediate family member of the decedent, such as the spouse, children, or parents, to file for wrongful death. Others allow any family member who can prove they receive direct financial support from the deceased to file.
Please remember that not all deaths, even if they are accidental, will qualify as wrongful death.
Burden of Proof
As noted above, wrongful death is a civil action, not a criminal case. The burden of proof is lower than for a criminal case. To successfully prove wrongful death, the court considers the significance of the evidence presented without the standards set for criminal prosecution, where the person must be found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
Proof for your wrongful death lawsuit includes:
- Developing a strategy for your case
- Thoroughly investigating your claims
- Speaking with experts and witnesses
- Researching tort law
The process includes mediations, demands, and the settlement of your claim. If the parties cannot reach an agreement, the lawsuit may be filed, and the case goes to trial.
Proving Wrongful Death
The elements required to prove wrongful death vary from state to state, but a few are common nationwide.
Most wrongful death cases require you to prove breach of a duty of care, negligence, causation, and damages.
The defendant must show a duty of care to the decedent. For example, all drivers owe the duty of care by obeying traffic laws and driving carefully. A physician owes a patient the duty of care to keep them healthy and not cause harm. Breach of a duty of care means the defendant did not perform the appropriate duty of care, such as running a red light or making a medical error.
Negligence means the death was caused in part or whole by the defendant’s carelessness, recklessness, or negligent actions. You must establish how the duty of care existed and how the defendant breached it with negligent acts.
Proving causation means showing how the negligence caused the death and that it was the direct cause of the wrongful death. For example, if the decedent’s brakes malfunctioned, a car running a red light might not be directly responsible for the death.
Finally, the victim’s death must generate quantifiable damages from things like:
- Hospitalizations and medical expenses
- Funeral and burial costs
- Loss of income or potential earnings
- Pain and suffering before death
- Loss of protection, guidance, or inheritance
While wrongful death has a lower burden of proof, you still need to gather significant evidence to uphold your claim and receive a settlement. The judge goes by the preponderance of evidence, which doesn’t mean the quantity of evidence but its quality and credibility.
Types of Evidence Required
You will need several documents, records, and reports to help you prove wrongful death, including:
- A death certificate, which shows the precise cause of death
- Police reports in connection with an accident or investigation
- Medical records with notations, test results, consultation records, evaluations, prescriptions, or other documentation
- An autopsy report if you believe the wrongful death was due to medical malpractice
- Evidence of a duty of care relationship between the deceased and the negligent entity
- Tax returns and financial records
- Family records
- Physical evidence such as bloody clothing
- Photos or videos
- Witness statements
A copy of the medical records can help prove the information was falsified, removed, or changed later. An autopsy report is the only way to prove malpractice through medical error because it provides the results of a complete physical and toxicological exam.
While a physician or citizen motorist has a duty of care, so do manufacturers. Suppose the loved one died due to a product defect. In that case, the manufacturer could be responsible through the duty of care to manufacture safe products.
Financial records prove the extent of support the deceased provided. In contrast, family records can prove loss of companionship and consortium, training and guidance for children, and funeral expenses.
Photos and videos are particularly compelling evidence. Be sure the date and time stamp appears on every file. Witness statements, including the name and contact information of anyone who saw the incident, are also helpful.
Common Causes of Wrongful Death
Several common causes of wrongful death appear throughout this post. They include:
- Birth injuries
- Medical malpractice
- Motorcycle, commercial truck, or automobile accidents
- Plane crash
- Occupational hazards or exposure
- Product defects
- Premises accidents
- Supervised activities such as daycare, adult care, or field trips
- Abuse or neglect at assisted living facilities or nursing homes
- Criminal actions such as stabbings, shootings, or other violence
Settlements for wrongful death cases might be covered by insurance but not in all cases. A wrongful death lawsuit may also include survival action, which adds recoverable damages for personal injury to the decedent. Personal injury settlements are allowed because the results of the action survive the person who suffered the injury, even though the person died.
Survival actions benefit the decedent’s estate, but the jury must determine damages according to the degree of consciousness, the severity of pain, the apprehension of impending death, and the duration of suffering.
Do You Believe a Loved One Suffered a Wrongful Death?
Losing a loved one is painful. Having to deal with legal proceedings after their death makes things worse. At Mukerji Law Firm, we focus on helping you get justice. Our lawyers have the skills and training to succeed in wrongful death cases. We can help you develop a strategy, gather evidence, and show a judge and jury that a wrongful death has occurred and impacted you severely. Contact us today.