But in all of these cases, one thing is very clear; this was a needless death, it did not have to happen, and if the person responsible had been exercising the minimum legal or contractual obligation they had in that situation, the death wouldn’t have occurred at all.
However, a death like this, while upsetting and with far reaching consequences, can still, in some cases, be considered accidental, and therefore no criminal charges or punishment are required for the person that is actually responsible for the loss of life. That doesn’t mean that people—however unintentionally—responsible for the death of another face no punishment at all. It simply means that they face no criminal punishment since they committed no conscious, criminal act, but justice can still be exacted through a process known as wrongful death.
What Is Wrongful Death?
A wrongful death suit is a court case enacted on the behalf of someone that has died as a result of negligence. Since the deceased cannot actually undertake a court case due to the death involved, the case is taken up by interested parties, usually family and/or friends. However, it is important to note that a wrongful death court case is NOT a criminal case. On some occasions, a wrongful death case may take the place of a criminal case if the court itself decides that no criminal charges will be laid. But a wrongful death case is subject to different processes and requirements than a criminal case, with the chief difference being no prison sentences are involved. Being a civil case, the form of punishment is entirely financial. Money is paid out in the event a plaintiff succeeds in prosecuting the case.
One way in which both a criminal and a civil case are both identical is in the western principle of “innocent until proven guilty.” Someone that is being sued or prosecuted in a civil case is assumed to be free of wrongdoing, and it is up to the plaintiff and the wrongful death attorney to prove otherwise.
Preponderance Of The Evidence
It’s in the way that the burden of proof works that wrongful death and criminal cases differ most. In a criminal case, the goal of a prosecuting attorney is to provide evidence that proves, beyond all reasonable doubt in the eyes of a jury, that a person is guilty. This means that the evidence must be both sufficiently compelling and numerous enough that the jury can discuss the matter and eventually decide that a person’s guilt is a virtual certainty. If they have even one or a few good reasons to doubt the argument, they can decide on a verdict of innocent.
Civil cases, rather than relying on “beyond reasonable doubt,” follow a philosophy of “preponderance of the evidence.” In general terms, this means that the evidence need only be compelling, and does not necessarily have to stand up to the scrutiny of near perfect certainty.
This means that often the testimony of one expert, or one critical piece of evidence can be enough to carry a wrongful death court case. One of the most famous examples of these two types of proof in action was the OJ Simpson murder case in 1994. The criminal case could not prove beyond reasonable doubt that OJ Simpson was guilty of murder, and so there was no criminal conviction. However, the preponderance of evidence in a subsequent wrongful death case was sufficient enough that Simpson was successfully sued.
Assembling A Case
If someone close to you has died as a result of the carelessness, incompetence or negligence of somebody else, you may be able to take this to court for a wrongful death suit. This is especially true of the death of the person involved will result in a severe financial setback for survivors.
However, proof is important. While a wrongful death case does not have the strict evidential requirements of a criminal case, there still needs to be compelling proof and arguments to show that the person’s death could have been easily avoided had more care been exercised.
We are a St. Pete lawyer that specializes in cases of personal injury and wrongful death. We have the experience to guide through what is surely an upsetting but necessary process if you want to see justice done for the one you have lost and see that the people responsible don’t go unpunished. If you have a wrongful death that you need addressed, we can be the ones to make it happen. Contact us and find out how..