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What is Wrongful Death Law?

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  • Written By: Alexis W.
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 09 November 2016
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Wrongful death law is a branch of tort law that allows a victim's estate to recover when someone is killed. Tort law governs both intentional and negligent behavior which causes damage. It is a form of civil law, which means that individuals bring these suits against each other. It also means penalties are monetary, rather than criminal penalties such as jail time.

Under the law in the United States and many other countries, every person owes a legal duty to every other person not to cause harm. If someone breaches that legal duty, either by behaving very carelessly or by doing something intentional to harm another, then the person who is harmed by the negligence or the intentional bad action has a legal right to be made whole. Tort law dictates what the person has to prove to show that the duty was breached, and what types of damages the injured victim is entitled to recover.

When someone dies as a result of a negligent or intentional wrong, that person obviously cannot sue the individual responsible for his injury. The law, however, dictates that someone should still recover and that the person who caused the injury should still have to pay. Wrongful death law is thus in place to allow the estate of the deceased person to sue.

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To bring a wrongful death suit under wrongful death law, the plaintiff must have standing. This means he must be in some way related to the deceased victim and he must have an appropriate connection to the victim so as to represent the estate. Husbands, wives, children, or even parents are allowed to bring a wrongful death suit under wrongful death law. Neighbors and casual acquaintances, for example, are generally are not permitted to bring a wrongful death lawsuit.

The plaintiff bringing the wrongful death suit must generally also prove the other elements of the case that the victim would have had to prove, had he been alive. For example, if a person was suing based on negligence, he would have to prove that the defendant actually was negligent, that the negligence was the proximate or direct cause of injury, and that injury and damages actually occurred. Wrongful death law thus dictates that the plaintiff suing on behalf of the deceased victim would have to prove these same elements in order to recover for the death. The law also dictates that the appropriate settlement for wrongful death is based on the person's life expectancy, the amount of money he made, and other related factors such as the closeness of the deceased person with the plaintiff.

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