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What Is A Wrongful Death Claim?

Sometimes the unexpected happens, and the scale on which an unexpected event occurs forever changes everything. When a death occurs, this is one of those instances when life, for the survivors of the deceased, will never be the same again. But there is a huge difference between a death that arises from natural causes, such as someone finally succumbing to a battle against an illness, and a death that is the direct result of someone else’s carelessness.

When death occurs due to the actions of another person, that usually means one of two possible legal actions are now possible. A person can be charged in court with the criminal offense of murder, or a person can be taken to civil court, and sued for what is known as a wrongful death claim. So what is this, and how does it differ from a murder charge?

Intent Makes All The Difference

The biggest differentiator between murder and a wrongful death claim is that one is a criminal charge, and the other is a civil case. Criminal charges mean that if a guilty verdict is determined, there will be a jail sentence. A criminal charge is also handed out by the state, with the intent to punish the criminal. A wrongful death claim, on the other hand, is conducted by the surviving family members of the deceased, usually as a form of financial compensation, to allow those left behind to carry on despite the lack of an ongoing income that would have come from the deceased.

There is also a big difference in the intent behind a death. In a typical case of first degree murder, for example, there is a deliberate intent to kill a person. In a case of wrongful death, the death may be the results of someone else’s action, but the intent to kill is not actually there. Someone who buys a weapon, plans an attack, and enters a public space with that weapon, shooting people is obviously intending to end lives. On the other hand, someone who is walking their pit bull, loses control of their animal and fails to prevent it from attacking and killing a child clearly did not plan such an event.

So what about manslaughter? This is a case where a death occurs, but it may not have been deliberate. Even here there are differences. Manslaughter has various degrees, from “crimes of passion,” where someone is enraged during an argument, for example, and causes a death out of anger, but not with intent. And then there are cases like “vehicular manslaughter” where someone driving recklessly—drunk, as one example—causes the death of another by accident.

Negligence Can Be Criminal Or Civil

The interesting thing about a manslaughter criminal charge is that it may be due to gross or reckless negligence, as is often the case with vehicular manslaughter criminal charges. However, negligence is also a key component of a wrongful death claim. This means that in some cases, such as a traffic accident that results in death, it may be possible for a person to face criminal manslaughter charges, as well as a possible wrongful death claim.

In more extraordinary circumstances, a wrongful death claim can sometimes be taken to court even with typical murder charges in play. The most famous example of this is the OJ Simpson case in the 1990s, where the famous athlete successfully defended himself against criminal charges in court against murder, but lost a wrongful death claim against the family members of the murder victim.

Is A Wrongful Death Claim Right For You?

If you’ve lost a loved one to an easily preventable death, and it is the direct result of someone else’s careless or reckless actions, a wrongful death claim may be something you should be thinking about. Nothing will bring back a loved one, but if someone else was not upholding their legal obligation, such as driving safely, or creating then selling a safe, household product, or even controlling their dog, then it is unfair for a family, who has done nothing wrong, to shoulder the financial burden of getting on with life, when the person whose actions or inaction caused that death is unaffected.

A wrongful death claim is first, and foremost, a way to ensure that financial compensation for medical and funeral expenses are available. But it can also be a way to ensure that a family continues to enjoy a certain amount of financial support when a source of income in a domestic union is suddenly taken away due to someone else. That someone else is now held responsible.

It may be a single individual recklessly driving a car, or it may be a company that has produced a dangerous product. Whatever the case may be, if you’ve lost someone due to wrongful death, you should contact an attorney experienced with wrongful death cases, and find out what your next move should be.

Michael J. Babboni's wide-ranging legal career is based on the strong belief that everyone should be treated fairly and have access to effective legal help. Michael began putting his beliefs in action by helping the people of St. Petersburg Florida get what they are owed in civil trials fighting to protect families by making corporations pay, and honor their obligations.

What Is A Wrongful Death Claim?

Goldman Babboni Fernandez
Murphy & Walsh

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