How Do You Prove Wrongful Death?
In California, it is possible to file a lawsuit for a preventable death. If you are a loved one or the personal representative of the deceased person’s estate, you can bring a civil claim seeking financial compensation from the person or party that caused the death. Before a court will award you financial compensation, however, you or your wrongful death attorney in Los Angeles will need to prove wrongful death.
What Is a Wrongful Death Civil Case?
A wrongful death civil case is not the same as a criminal case against someone for murder or homicide. A criminal case aims to punish a defendant for causing a death, while a civil case seeks to hold a defendant financially accountable (liable) for surviving family members’ related losses. A civil wrongful death lawsuit is a claim for financial compensation to make the filing party whole again.
In California, the definition of wrongful death is a fatality caused by someone else’s wrongful act or neglect. In general, if your loved one would have been able to file a personal injury case had he or she lived, you will be able to file a wrongful death lawsuit. You may be able to file a wrongful death civil case if you are the deceased person’s surviving spouse or domestic partner, child, grandchild, or someone who can prove that you were dependent on the decedent.
What Must the Plaintiff Prove in a Wrongful Death Case?
Negligence is the most common foundation for a wrongful death lawsuit in California. Negligence is the failure to act in a reasonable manner or according to the standards of care, resulting in injury or harm to another person. To prove that wrongful death occurred, and that the defendant(s) is liable, a plaintiff’s attorney must establish the four elements of negligence:
- Duty. The defendant must have owed the decedent a legal duty of care. This is a responsibility to act in a way that a prudent and rational person would in the same or similar circumstances. For example, all drivers in California have a duty to operate their vehicles in a way that will not cause injury to others.
- Breach. A breach of the duty of care can refer to any action or omission that a reasonable party most likely would not have committed. It can refer to careless or reckless acts by the defendant, as well as a wanton disregard for the safety of others and malicious intent to harm.
- Causation. Causation means that the defendant’s breach of the duty of care caused or substantially contributed to the injury in question. In a wrongful death case, the fatal injury would not have happened but for the defendant’s breach or violation of duty.
- Damages. Damages refer to losses suffered by the plaintiff because of the defendant’s wrongful act or neglect. In a wrongful death case, damages often refer to funeral and burial costs, loss of consortium, and lost earnings.
It is not necessary to prove that the defendant in your wrongful death case meant to kill your loved one. It is not even necessary to prove that the defendant intended to harm the victim. In the civil justice system, it is enough to hold someone liable if you can show that he or she was careless or negligent and that this was the actual cause of your loved one’s fatal injury.
What Is the Burden of Proof?
During a personal injury or wrongful death claim, it is the filing party’s (plaintiff’s) burden to prove the case. The burden of proof is a preponderance of the evidence. This is clear evidence that convinces a judge or jury that the defendant is more likely than not responsible for the death (responsible with at least a 50 percent probability).
This is a lesser burden of proof than proof beyond a reasonable doubt, which is the evidentiary standard that must be met during a criminal case. However, it can still be difficult to gather enough evidence to support your case without assistance from a wrongful death lawyer. For more information about how to prove a wrongful death case in California, contact an attorney in Los Angeles today.