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Are Wrongful Death Lawsuits Criminal or Civil in Maryland?


Losing a loved one unexpectedly is a traumatic experience. When their death is the result of another’s negligent or intentional conduct, the pain could be overwhelming. Grief is often overshadowed by anger and a sense of tremendous unfairness. Depending on what occurred, an eligible family member could file a wrongful death claim. If an intentional act caused a wrongful death, it could result in a criminal prosecution. Below, our Maryland wrongful death attorney from Rice, Murtha & Psoras discusses some of the differences between a criminal case and a civil lawsuit.

Wrongful Death Cases in Maryland: Civil or Criminal?

A wrongful death lawsuit is a claim filed in Maryland civil court. Unlike a personal injury lawsuit, where a plaintiff is suing a defendant to recover for the damages they suffered, a wrongful death claim is brought by a surviving family member or the deceased’s estate.
The claimant in a wrongful death claim is seeking monetary damages due to the death of their loved one. Our Baltimore wrongful death attorney will have to prove that your loved one was killed due to another’s negligence or intentional act to prevail in a lawsuit.
Typically, a wrongful death case will arise from a negligent or careless act, such as a car accident or medical malpractice. However, even though a wrongful death lawsuit is a civil action, it could arise from a criminal act. If you lost a loved one to a violent assault, then criminal charges could be filed alongside your civil lawsuit.

Can There Be Criminal Charges in a Wrongful Death Lawsuit in Maryland?

For criminal charges to be brought against an individual, they must have violated one or more laws. Only the state or federal government has the right to prosecute a person criminally. However, many criminal offenses result in the wrongful death of another person, including manslaughter or murder. When a person is found guilty of a criminal charge, they face criminal penalties, such as fines or imprisonment. In many cases, the family of the victim feels left out of the process.
While the government prosecutes a criminal matter, our Maryland personal injury attorney could file a civil lawsuit on your behalf for the same conduct. However, instead of seeking to put the defendant in jail, our office will be seeking monetary compensation from the individual or company that caused your loved one’s death. A civil lawsuit also allows the family member to play an active role in the case. Often, a civil case brings a greater sense of closure than a criminal one.
Compensation is awarded through a civil lawsuit. An eligible family member is permitted to recover for their financial losses and emotional suffering associated with the untimely death. Damages could include mental anguish, loss of companionship, and the lost income the deceased would have earned throughout their life.
The deceased’s estate is also entitled to pursue compensation for the suffering and economic losses the dead person endured because of the injury and death. These damages include medical bills, funeral expenses, and possible awards for the physical and emotional pain they suffered.

Proving Intent in Criminal Prosecutions and Maryland Wrongful Death Lawsuits

In nearly every case, both criminal and civil, some degree of intent must be shown as an element of the crime or tort. In a criminal proceeding, the prosecutor must establish the defendant acted intentionally or was willfully negligent. For example, for a first-degree murder charge conviction in Maryland, a prosecutor must prove that the defendant acted deliberately, willfully, and that the act was premeditated.
In a civil wrongful death lawsuit, the claimant only has to show that the defendant was negligent and their negligence caused the death. the burden on the prosecution is much greater in a criminal case.
To prove negligence in a civil case, our Maryland wrongful death lawyer must prove four elements. the first element is that a duty of care existed. Duty of care is a legal obligation the defendant owed the deceased. For example, in a car accident case, every motorist has a responsibility to operate their vehicle safely. Determining the duty of care will depend on the facts of your case.
Next, the defendant must have breached that duty. This means that they deviated from what a responsible and prudent person would do under similar circumstances. Once established, the claimant will have to prove that the breach caused the death of their loved one.
Finally, the claimant will have to demonstrate that they suffered actual damages because of the death. These damages include the emotional suffering they endured along with any financial losses.
The difference between intent and negligence in a criminal proceeding and a civil lawsuit means that a defendant could be acquitted of any criminal conduct and still be subject to a wrongful death lawsuit. While a conviction could increase the chances of a successful civil wrongful death lawsuit, it is unnecessary. In fact, our Rockville wrongful death attorney could pursue your case even if the defendant was found not guilty or the charges were dropped.

Call Our Maryland Wrongful Death Attorney to Discuss a Civil Lawsuit

People lose their lives to the negligence of others in many different ways, including car accidents, medical malpractice, or accidents caused by defective products. Some people in Maryland lose their lives because of the intentional and criminal conduct of others. Whether you lost someone due to negligence or criminal behavior, you could be permitted to seek compensation and justice through a civil lawsuit. Our Bowie, MD wrongful death attorney will thoroughly examine your situation to determine your legal rights. If you lost a family member to wrongful death, call Rice, Murtha & Psoras at (410) 694-7291 to schedule a free appointment.