What is Considered a “Wrongful Death?”


Losing a loved one can be difficult and traumatic.  An untimely death in the family can cause mental, emotional, and financial strife.  If another person or entity was responsible for your recent loss of a spouse, parent, or child, you may be wondering whether their death was wrongful for the purposes of a lawsuit.
A wrongful death has occurred when the death was caused by someone else’s wrongful act.  A wrongful act is an action or failure to act that is illegal, reckless, or negligent according to the law.  Common examples of situations where wrongful deaths frequently occur include car accidents, medical malpractice, toxic exposure, and intentional killings, to name a few.
At Rice, Murtha & Psoras, we recognize that dealing with the loss of a loved one can be difficult.  Our respected wrongful death attorneys hope to earn you the recovery that will allow you to comfortably grieve.  To speak with us about your options for free, call us at (410) 694-7291.

When is a Death “Wrongful” for the Purposes of a Lawsuit?

A death is wrongful when it was caused by the negligent or reckless behavior of another.  the responsible party could be a person, a company, or a government agency, or more than one of any of these entities.  Negligence and recklessness are determined by what would be reasonably expected from a person in the same circumstances.  the death must be directly and proximately caused by a wrongful act in order to be considered a wrongful death.
It is helpful to consider a wrongful death lawsuit as if it were a personal injury lawsuit, because the requirements are very similar.  the functional difference is that damages are primarily based on the consequences to the deceased’s beneficiaries as a result of the death, and the beneficiaries collect the compensation rather than the deceased’s estate.

What is a Wrongful Act?

A wrongful act is the instance of negligent or reckless behavior that caused the death.  A wrongful act could be an act that is illegal or violative of a duty owed to the victim.  If a wrongful death lawsuit stems from an illegal act, the civil case will be different than the criminal case.
Strictly speaking, a wrongful act could be an affirmative “act,” but it could also refer to an omission, or failure to act.  For instance, if a property owner doesn’t notify a guest of a dangerous condition on the premises, their failure to act would constitute a “wrongful act” for the purposes of a wrongful death lawsuit.

Examples of Wrongful Death Causes

The best way to explain the concept of wrongful death can be by using some of the more common examples.  Below are just a few of the ways where negligence or recklessness that leads to a death can create liability in a wrongful death lawsuit.

Medical Malpractice

If a patient’s substandard medical care results in their death, their loved ones may potentially file a wrongful death lawsuit to recover for their damages.  Medical malpractice may result in wrongful death whether the malpractice created a new condition or unduly exacerbated an existing condition.  Misdiagnosis is a common culprit in wrongful deaths after malpractice.

Car Accidents

Unfortunately, car accidents occur frequently and always have the potential for disastrous consequences.  If another driver was driving recklessly or intoxicated at the time of the accident that caused the death, the surviving family members may have a wrongful death case.

Exposure to Toxic Substances

When landlords or employers know or reasonably should be aware that circumstances exist which pose a danger to their tenants or employees, they have a duty to fix those conditions or notify those in danger of their existence.  If a loved one passed away because of conditions developed after being exposed to asbestos, radiation, or lead paint (to name a few) without proper warning by the responsible party, this could constitute a wrongful death for the purposes of a lawsuit.

Intentional Killing

If one person intentionally deprives another of life, they may be liable in a wrongful death lawsuit.  the wrongful death lawsuit is separate than the criminal charge.  the only way to directly recover for the loss you sustained is by filing your civil suit.  If the responsible party was found not guilty in their criminal case, you should know that the burden of proof in your civil suit is much lower, so you may still be able to recover.  Speak to one of our experienced wrongful death lawyers for more information.

How Do You Prove Wrongful Death in a Lawsuit?

In order to show that a death was wrongful in a lawsuit, you will need to show that the defendant acted criminally, recklessly, or negligently, thereby causing the death.
Most cases come down to proving negligence.  To show that a defendant was negligently responsible for a wrongful death, you will have to prove that the defendant owed the deceased a duty and breached that duty through their actions or inactions.  Your lawyer can help you introduce expert testimony where needed to prove that the duty existed.
You will also need to show that the wrongful act was the cause of the death.  Depending on the state that you are in, the causation requirements for a wrongful death may differ, so you should consult your wrongful death lawyer about what will be required in your case.
You will also need to prove the harms that you and your family have suffered as a result of the death.  This could include direct financial consequences such as loss of access to income or benefits.  it will also include compensation for the psychological and emotional consequences of your loss.  For an estimate on how much you stand to recover in a wrongful death lawsuit, speak to one of our experienced wrongful death attorneys today.

Questions About Your Potential Wrongful Death Lawsuit?  Call Us Today for Free

The wrongful death attorneys at Rice, Murtha & Psoras want to see you recover what you are owed.  To schedule your free initial consultation on your potential wrongful death claim, call us at (410) 694-7291.