What is Wrongful Death?

Written By: Darl Champion

Date Posted: 04.25.24

Category: Wrongful Death

Losing a loved one is a devastating experience, and it becomes even more devastating when their death could have been prevented. In legal terms, when a person dies due to the negligence, misconduct, or intentional actions of another party, it is a wrongful death. It is a complex and emotionally trying situation; family members must understand the legal implications. Suppose your loved one died under these circumstances. In that case, it’s best to consult a wrongful death attorney or lawyer who can guide you through the process and fight for justice on your behalf.

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Wrongful Death: Definition and Legal Basis

Wrongful death refers to a legal term used when the negligence, recklessness, or intentional actions of another individual or entity cause a person’s death. It is a tragic event that brings immense grief and pain to the surviving family members. In such cases, the law allows for a wrongful death claim to be filed to seek justice and hold the responsible party accountable.

The legal basis for pursuing a wrongful death claim varies from state to state. However, in general, it involves proving that the death was a direct result of the defendant’s wrongful actions or negligence. It can include situations such as car accidents, medical malpractice, workplace accidents, defective products, and even criminal acts. Wrongful death claims can be complex and challenging, requiring the skills of an experienced lawyer to navigate the legal process.

Common Causes of Wrongful Death

Common Causes of Wrongful Death

Wrongful death cases can arise from a variety of circumstances. It is not limited to any specific cause or circumstance. The key factor is the loss of life due to another party’s culpable actions or negligence. Some of the most common causes include:

Car Accidents: When a loved one dies in a car accident caused by another driver’s negligence or reckless behavior, a wrongful death claim can be pursued to seek compensation.

Medical Malpractice: If a healthcare professional fails to provide the standard of care expected, resulting in the death of a patient, a wrongful death claim can be filed against the responsible party.

Workplace Accidents: When a worker dies due to unsafe working conditions, inadequate training, or employer negligence, their family may have grounds for a wrongful death claim against the employer or other parties involved.

Defective Products: If a defective product causes someone’s death, such as a faulty medical device or a malfunctioning vehicle, the manufacturer or distributor may be held liable through a wrongful death claim.

Criminal Acts: In cases where a person dies as a result of someone else’s intentional actions, such as murder or manslaughter, the responsible party can face both criminal charges and a wrongful death lawsuit.

Burden of Proof in Wrongful Death Cases

In wrongful death cases, the burden of proof lies with the plaintiff (the injured party or person bringing the claim), who must establish that the defendant’s (the at-fault party) negligence or wrongful conduct directly caused the death. Proof of negligence typically involves showing that the defendant had a duty of care, breached that duty, and that the breach resulted in the death of the victim.

To support their claims, plaintiffs need to present evidence such as eyewitness testimony, expert opinions, medical records, accident reports, and other relevant documentation. When you work with an experienced attorney, they can gather and present the necessary evidence to establish liability.

Wrongful Death: The Four Elements of Negligence

Families who have lost a loved one may have legal recourse through a wrongful death claim. To successfully pursue such a claim, they should understand the four elements of negligence that must be proven.

Duty of Care

The first element is the duty of care. To hold someone legally responsible for a wrongful death, a lawyer must establish the defendant owed a duty of care to the deceased. It means they had a legal obligation to act reasonably and responsibly to prevent harm. For example, a driver has a duty of care to drive safely and follow traffic laws to avoid causing accidents that can result in fatalities.

Breach of Duty

The second element is a breach of duty. Once there is proof the defendant had a duty of care, a lawyer must show they failed to fulfill that duty. They can demonstrate this by proving the defendant’s actions or lack thereof fell below the standard of care expected in a similar situation. For instance, if a doctor fails to diagnose a life-threatening condition on time, resulting in the death of a patient, they may be considered to have breached their duty of care.


The third element is causation. It is not enough to show that the defendant breached their duty of care; a lawyer must also prove the breach of duty directly caused or significantly contributed to the death of the victim. Causation can be challenging to establish in some cases, as other factors may have played a role in the death. However, with the help of an experienced attorney, evidence can be gathered and analyzed to demonstrate the causal link between the defendant’s actions and the fatal outcome.


The final element is damages. To successfully pursue a wrongful death claim, you must show that the death resulted in measurable damages. It can include financial losses such as medical expenses, funeral costs, and loss of income. It may also encompass non-economic damages such as emotional pain and suffering, loss of companionship, and the impact on the victim’s surviving family members.

Parties Eligible to File a Wrongful Death Claim

The parties eligible to file a wrongful death claim vary from state to state. Typically, immediate family members such as spouses, children, and parents of the deceased are granted the right to file a wrongful death lawsuit. In some cases, dependent minors, life partners, and financial dependents may also have the standing to file a claim.

In situations where the deceased did not have any immediate family members or dependent individuals, the executor or administrator of the deceased’s estate may be allowed to file a wrongful death claim on behalf of the estate beneficiaries.

Damages and Compensation in Wrongful Death Cases

The damages and compensation available in wrongful death cases aim to provide financial relief to the surviving family members who have suffered loss due to the death of their loved one. These may include:

  • Medical Expenses: The costs associated with medical treatment and care received by the deceased before their passing may be reimbursed.
  • Funeral and Burial Costs: The expenses related to the funeral, burial, or cremation arrangements can be compensated.
  • Loss of Income: The family may be entitled to compensation for the loss of the deceased’s future income and financial support they would have provided.
  • Emotional Distress: The pain, suffering, and emotional distress experienced by the surviving family members due to the loss of their loved one may be considered for compensation.

By consulting with an experienced wrongful death attorney, you can determine the potential damages and compensation applicable to your specific wrongful death case, as these can vary depending on the circumstances and jurisdiction.

Statutes of Limitations for Wrongful Death Claims

Each state has its statutes of limitations that dictate the time limit within which a wrongful death claim must be filed. The statutes of limitations vary, typically from one to three years from the date of death or the date the cause of death was discovered. Meeting with an attorney as soon as possible will help ensure compliance with the applicable time limits.

Moreover, some states have special rules regarding statutes of limitations for wrongful death claims involving certain circumstances, such as deaths caused by medical malpractice, government entities, or accidents involving minors. You need to know these exceptions and consult an attorney to understand the requirements.

Wrongful Death Lawsuits vs. Criminal Trials

Wrongful Death Lawsuits vs. Criminal Trials

There is a distinction between wrongful death lawsuits and criminal trials. While they can arise from the same incident, they have different burdens of proof, legal consequences, and potential compensation.

In a criminal trial, the prosecutor must prove the defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. If found guilty, the defendant may face punishments such as fines, probation, or imprisonment. However, criminal trials focus on the state’s interest in punishing the defendant rather than compensating the victim’s family.

On the other hand, wrongful death lawsuits are civil actions filed by the surviving family members seeking financial compensation for their losses. The burden of proof is lower, where the plaintiff must establish the defendant’s liability by a preponderance of the evidence. If the plaintiff succeeds, they may be awarded compensation for damages such as medical expenses, funeral costs, and lost income.

By working with an attorney, you can understand the available legal options and determine the appropriate course of action for your wrongful death case.

Benefits of Hiring a Wrongful Death Attorney

Losing a loved one is emotionally overwhelming, and dealing with legal matters can add to the burden. Here are some key reasons why hiring a seasoned wrongful death attorney is crucial:

  • Experience and Knowledge: Wrongful death cases involve intricate legal procedures and complexities. An experienced attorney will have in-depth knowledge of the relevant laws and regulations, ensuring your rights are protected.
  • Investigation and Gathering Evidence: A skilled attorney will thoroughly investigate the circumstances surrounding the death of your loved one. They will work to gather evidence, interview witnesses, and consult experts to build a strong case on your behalf.
  • Emotional Support: Dealing with the loss of a loved one is emotionally challenging. By hiring a wrongful death attorney, you can focus on grieving and healing while they handle the legal aspects. They provide the support and guidance you need during this difficult time.
  • Fair Compensation: A wrongful death attorney will fight for fair compensation on your behalf. They will assess the impact of the loss on your family, considering both economic and non-economic factors. They will advocate for your rights and seek the maximum compensation possible.

The Legal Process for Wrongful Death Claims

The legal process for wrongful death claims can be complex and varies from state to state. However, certain critical steps are typically involved:

  • Consultation with an Experienced Wrongful Death Attorney: The first step is to schedule a consultation with a wrongful death attorney. During this consultation, you can discuss the specifics of your case and learn about your legal rights and options.
  • Investigation and Evidence Gathering: Once you decide to move forward with a claim, your attorney will investigate the circumstances surrounding the death of your loved one. They will gather evidence, review medical records, interview witnesses, and consult experts if necessary.
  • Identifying the Responsible Parties: Your attorney will identify all parties who may be responsible for the wrongful death. It may include individuals, companies, or institutions. Your attorney will work to establish liability and hold the responsible parties accountable.
  • Negotiations and Settlement: In many cases, wrongful death claims are resolved through settlement negotiations. Your attorney will represent your interests and negotiate with the opposing party or their insurance company to reach a fair settlement. Your attorney will prepare for litigation if a settlement cannot be reached.
  • Litigation and Trial: If a fair settlement cannot be reached, your attorney will file a lawsuit on your behalf and proceed with litigation. They will build a strong case, present evidence, and advocate for your rights in court.
  • Judgment and Compensation: If your case goes to trial, a judge or jury will determine the outcome and the amount of compensation awarded. If successful, you will receive the compensation you deserve for your loss.

Did You Recently Lose a Loved One Due to the Negligence, Carelessness, or Intentional Acts of Another? Contact a Compassionate Wrongful Death Attorney for Support and Guidance Today

Losing a loved one is a devastating experience, and pursuing a wrongful death claim can be overwhelming. A compassionate wrongful death attorney understands the complexities and challenges you may face during this difficult time. They are here to guide you through the legal process, fight for justice, and seek fair compensation.

Remember, if you have lost a loved one due to someone else’s negligence or wrongful conduct, never wait to consult a personal injury law firm in Marietta who can provide guidance and support throughout the legal process.

About the Author

Darl Champion is an award-winning personal injury lawyer serving the greater Metro Atlanta area. He is passionate about ensuring his clients are fully compensated when they are harmed by someone’s negligence. Learn more about Darl here.