Filing a wrongful death claim is only the beginning of the legal process to seek compensation for a loved one’s wrongful death. You still need to prove that the defendant’s actions caused the death and that it was indeed wrongful. But doing so is far easier said than done because proving a wrongful death can be an uphill legal battle.
What is a Wrongful Death?
In simple legal terms, a wrongful death is a death that is caused by the wrongful or neglectful act of another person, whether that act was intentional or not. Each state can set its own statutes for wrongful death laws, but most of them follow this basic premise. Furthermore, a wrongful or neglectful act is one that the average, reasonable person would not have done in the same situation.
For example, if a loved one dies in a car accident caused by a speeding driver, then it is likely a wrongful death. A reasonable driver would not speed, so that action is wrongful, making any death caused by it wrongful, too.
Four Elements to Prove Wrongful Death
Suspecting that your loved one died a wrongful death is not the same as proving that they did. Because a wrongful death claim is technically a personal injury claim filed for someone who cannot file it for themselves, proof of a wrongful death relies on the same essential elements to prove liability in an injury claim.
Four elements must exist in a wrongful death claim to prove liability:
- Negligence: The defendant must have acted with negligence or wrongfully. As mentioned, this describes an action that a reasonable person likely would not have done in the same or similar situation as the defendant.
- Duty of care and breach: The defendant must have owed a duty of care to the person who passed away, and that duty must have been breached by the defendant’s negligence. Returning to the speeding driver example, all motorists owe an unshakable duty of care to every other motorist on the road.
- Causation: The breach of care owed to the deceased must have been the cause of or a significant contributor to that person’s death.
- Damages: The deceased’s untimely death must have caused some sort of damage to the plaintiff, which, in many states, can be financial damage and intangible damage like the loss of companionship. In other words, the claimant or plaintiff cannot be a total stranger to the deceased.
Burden of Proof for Wrongful Death Claims
The proof you use in your wrongful death claim needs to be convincing, but just how convincing does it need to be, exactly? Wrongful death claims aren’t criminal cases, so the burden of proof is set at a “preponderance of evidence.” By legal standards, a preponderance of evidence has been reached if the claimant has convinced the “fact finder” – i.e., a judge or jury – that there is a “greater than 50% chance” that the arguments they have brought forth are truthful and accurate.
There is also no set minimum amount of evidence that a wrongful death claimant needs to use to prove their point. You could depend on 1 great piece of evidence or 100. In either situation, your claim should be taken seriously as long as it is 50% convincing or greater.
Legal Help to Create a Wrongful Death Claim
Proving a wrongful death is already difficult. But the matter is even more challenging when you factor in your grief and other distractions. The last thing you will want to do is add legal frustrations to everything else you are already going through and sorting.
We highly recommend you work with a wrongful death attorney like those you can find at Maring Williams Law Office to manage your case on your behalf. As an experienced team of legal professionals who are known for balancing effective casework with compassionate moral support, we are ready to ease your burden by taking such an important case over. Members of our team are able to accept cases in North Dakota, Montana, and Minnesota. Contact our firm now to find out more.