When a person’s death results from an injury caused by someone’s negligent or illegal actions, the law gives that person’s estate a civil claim for damages. This claim is known as “wrongful death.” A wrongful death claim may happen in addition to a criminal prosecution for the death, as they exist in separate parts of the legal system. The rules and procedures are very different in the two systems. A knowledgeable Coral Springs wrongful death attorney can help you to understand how the system works and whether a claim for wrongful death could work.
The law provides two different systems for determining liability after a person’s death. The criminal system seeks to determine guilt and, upon a finding of guilt, prescribes punishments for the defendant. Prosecutors, who work for the government at the local, state, or federal level and represent the citizens of their jurisdiction, bring cases against people suspected of a crime. They must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant committed the crime, meaning that the judge or jury must have no reasonably plausible alternatives to the defendant’s guilt. This is a very difficult burden to meet, and the consequences for a defendant found guilty include monetary fines and imprisonment.
Wrongful death claims are brought in the civil courts. The deceased person’s estate, through an executor or representative, brings a lawsuit against the person alleged to be responsible for the death. The purpose of the suit is to explore the defendant’s legal liability for the death. The lawsuit seeks monetary damages to compensate the estate and the decedent’s heirs and loved ones for the loss of the decedent’s support. This may include both financial support and emotional support. A claimant must prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the defendant is legally liable for the death and should pay damages. This is the lowest standard of proof in the legal system, where “beyond a reasonable doubt” is the highest. A claimant in a wrongful death case must show that it was more likely than not, or 51% likely, that the defendant caused the decedent’s death.
Although a wrongful death claim does not require a criminal prosecution in order to be viable, criminal prosecutions for murder or manslaughter may take place side by side with civil claims for wrongful death for the same incident. An estate may wait until after a criminal prosecution to bring a wrongful death claim to see the results of the criminal case. Prosecutors may decide not to pursue charges in a particular case, but this does not preclude a civil suit for wrongful death. While the two types of cases often proceed closely to one another, they are ultimately independent.
Because of the different burdens of proof, each case may have a very different outcome. The most famous example is the O.J. Simpson case from the 1990’s, where a jury acquitted Simpson of the criminal charge of murder, but a civil jury found him liable for wrongful death and ordered him to pay damages.
The Deerfield Beach wrongful death lawyers at Goldman & Daszkal, P.A., represent the interests of Floridians who have lost their lives due to negligence or illegal activity, and work to preserve the rights of the decedent’s heirs and loved ones. Contact the firm through this website or at 954-428-9333 for a free and confidential consultation to discuss your case.