4 Elements Of A Wrongful Death Lawsuit

To hold another party responsible after losing a loved one requires proving their negligence is what caused their wrongful death. Negligence is a legal term that defines a party’s failure to exercise the reasonable care expected of them in a particular situation. Establishing negligence requires demonstrating the following four elements. 

Duty of Care

Wrongful death lawsuits can only be successful if the defendant (at-fault party) owed the victim a duty of care prior to their death. A duty of care refers to a person’s legal obligation to exercise reasonable care under the circumstances to avoid harming others. Whether the defendant owed the victim a duty of care will vary based on factors unique to each case. For example, in a wrongful death case involving a car accident, the defendant (at-fault driver) had a duty of care to drive their vehicle safely to prevent a collision. In medical malpractice wrongful death cases, the defendant (healthcare provider) would have owed the patient a duty of care to extend the same skills, training, and care as other doctors or hospitals in their community. 

Breach of Duty of Care

A breach of duty of care occurs when a person fails to demonstrate the reasonable care expected of them under specific circumstances. When it comes to determining whether the defendant breached their duty of care owed to the deceased, the court will consider whether another reasonable person of similar background would have behaved differently in the same situation. Whether the defendant behaved “reasonably” is often the most contentious issue in a wrongful death case. Different situations call for a higher or lower standard of care, so whether the defendant acted “reasonably” is decided on a case by case basis. Some examples of breach of duty of care include a driver texting while driving before crashing into the deceased’s vehicle or a physician failing to check the deceased’s medical chart for known allergies before prescribing medication. 

Proximate Cause

Proximate cause requires evidence that the deceased would not have been killed but for the defendant’s breach of care. In order words, the defendant’s actions directly caused the victim’s death. For instance, the deceased would not have died in a car accident if the defendant had stayed off their phone while driving, or the deceased would not have been killed if their physician checked for allergies before prescribing medication. 


The final element of a wrongful death lawsuit is damages. The surviving family must provide evidence that they or the estate has suffered losses. Those may include, for example, medical bills related to the accident that caused the victim’s death, funeral and burial expenses, loss of expected income, loss of companionship, loss of services, the deceased’s conscious pain and suffering, and more. Without proof of losses, the court cannot award damages. Establishing a wrongful death case’s worth and the amount of damages a family is entitled to will require extensive documentation, such as bills, receipts, medical records, pay stubs, tax returns, etc. If you have a wrongful death lawsuit, contact a Wrongful Death Lawyer.

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