Wrongful death is a case against one, by his own act or negligence, cause the death of another. It may arise from a criminal act or non-criminal act. Wrongful death is a civil case and is litigated by a private complainant. The private complainant has the burden of proof to establish this case. He must also establish his legal personality to sue and to receive awards for damages.
NATURE OF WRONGFUL DEATH CASE
In criminal cases involving the death of a victim, there is always a civil aspect to it. In most jurisdictions, this civil aspect is termed as a wrongful death case. In criminal litigation, the state is only after for the conviction of the accused. The conviction of the accused results only to his imprisonment. The state’s interest is for the punishment of convicts. Thereby, creating deterrence to anyone from committing similar crimes.
However, there is another interested party in a criminal case, other than the state. The deceased’s next of kin is an interested party. Depending on the state laws, the civil aspect of a criminal case involving death may be included upon the filing of the criminal action. In some jurisdictions, the civil aspect may be filed and tried separately from the criminal aspect.
LITIGATING CRIMINAL BASED AND CIVIL BASED WRONGFUL DEATH
In a criminal case involving wrongful death case, it is best that the deceased’s family hires a private lawyer. The private lawyer will actively litigate the civil aspect of the case. For expedience, the state may give the private lawyer authority to prosecute. Thereby, the private lawyer will both litigate the criminal and civil aspects of the case. The private prosecutor will not only present evidence to prove the elements of the crime. He will also present evidence of the damages caused to the deceased, his family, and his estate. So that, not only the accused will be convicted. He will also be ordered to pay the damages he caused to the private complainant.
There are instances when someone’s death can only result to civil case of wrongful death. Usually, when negligence causes death, this will only give rise to a civil case. Here, the complainant must establish that negligence causes the death of the victim. Consequently, the death causes pecuniary loss to the complainant.
PLAINTIFF AND AWARDS
Not all who mourn over the death of a person can file a wrongful death case. Legal personality to sue are reserved to those who depend from the victim for support. These are his spouse, children, parents, and the like. It these are absent, those other legal heirs of the victim. In most jurisdictions, they follow the rules on succession. Meaning, those who can legally inherit from the deceased can file a suit for wrongful death.
The degree of proof required to win a wrongful death case is a preponderance of evidence. It is less burdensome from proof beyond reasonable doubt which is required in criminal case. It is often described as the more convincing evidence, the higher probability, and accuracy of truth. A successful outcome of wrongful death may give rise to any, combination, or all the following awards:
- Medical bills and funeral cost
- Loss of present and future income of the victim
- Victim Support due and customarily given to his dependents
- Survivor’s pain and suffering
- Punitive damages