What is a Wrongful Death?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 13 February 2020
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A wrongful death is a death which is caused by someone else's actions, whether those actions be intentional or not. If the grounds for wrongful death can be established, the survivors of the deceased can potentially sue for damages. In a wrongful death suit, the survivors essentially file suit on behalf of the deceased, since the deceased is no longer able to speak for him or herself.

When someone causes the death of another human being, they expose themselves to both criminal and civil liabilities. If, for example, someone is shot and killed with a gun, the shooter can be charged for murder in a criminal case, and then be subjected to a wrongful death suit in civil court. At the murder trial, the shooter might be convicted and sentenced to time in prison, while in the civil trial, the murderer might be obliged to pay damages to the survivors of the victim.


Wrongful deaths can be intentional, as in the case of a shooting, or they can be accidental, as in the case of a death caused by negligence, such as a drunk driving incident or a fight. Wrongful death suits can be filed when the defendant has done something which caused someone else to die, and the survivors of the deceased have experienced emotional or financial damages as a result of the death. The damages awarded in a wrongful death suit can include funds to compensate for the cost of medical expenses and a funeral, along with funds to compensate for the loss of the income, services, and emotional support of the deceased.

The amount of damages awarded in a wrongful death suit depend on the circumstances. The jury usually accounts for information provided in the trial such as the average income of the deceased, and his or her role in the lives of the survivors. Issues like pain and suffering on the part of the deceased before death may be considered as well, along with the nature of the death.

People who wish to file a wrongful death suit usually consult with a civil attorney, an attorney who specializes in these types of suits. Civil attorneys also deal with issues like malpractice suits and other situations in which people sue for damages. The standard of evidence in civil trials is usually lower than that in criminal trials, allowing for a wider scope of information to be introduced to support the suit and push for a larger award.


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