To hold another party liable in a wrongful death claim requires proving that their negligence resulted in a person’s death. Negligence is a legal term used to refer to a party’s failure to use reasonable care in any given situation. Establishing negligence is the key to a successful claim and involves demonstrating the following four elements.
Duty of Care
The defendant (at-fault party) must have owed the victim a duty of care. A duty of care is a legal obligation to exercise reasonable care to prevent harm to others. Whether the defendant owed the victim a duty of care will depend on the facts specific to your case. For example, in a car accident wrongful death claim, a driver who causes a collision owed a duty of care to the victim to drive safely and follow traffic laws. In a medical malpractice wrongful death claim, physicians owed the patient a duty of care to provide the same skills, training, and care as other doctors or hospitals in their community.
Breach of Duty of Care
To establish the defendant breached their duty of care requires proving what another reasonable person or entity would have done in a similar situation. Since different situations call for a lower or higher duty of care, whether the defendant’s behavior was “reasonable” will often be the most contentious issue. For instance, it is against the law for a driver to be texting while driving, so proving a breach of care may not be as complex. However, in other cases, it isn’t always so straightforward.
In addition to proving the defendant breached their duty of care, there must also be a link from their breach to the victim’s cause of death. In other words, the victim would not have died but for the defendant’s breach of care. For instance, the victim would not have been killed if the driver who hit them wasn’t texting while driving and paying attention to the road and medical records prove the victim’s injuries from the crash are what led to their death. Testimony from hired experts is often needed to establish causation in wrongful death cases. An attorney may hire a medical expert, for example, who can testify to the extent of the victim’s injuries, why they died, and how the injuries were caused, or an accident reconstruction expert to demonstrate how the accident occurred and who was at fault.
The final element to prove a case of wrongful death is damages. There must be evidence that the victim’s family suffered losses that require reimbursement—whether financial and/or personal. For example, medical bills caused by the fatal accident, funeral and burial expenses, loss of income and potential earnings, loss of benefits, loss of inheritance, loss of companionship, protection, services, the deceased’s conscious pain and suffering before their death, and more. Proving these losses will require documentation, such as bills, receipts, pay stubs, tax returns, testimony from family on the impact of their loss, and possibly experts to confirm any potential losses and the value of the claim.
If you believe your loved one has suffered a wrongful death, reach out to a Wrongful Death Attorney.