What is a Wrongful Death Case?

When an individual perishes because of the negligent actions of another party or entity, surviving family members can sue the responsible person for damages in a wrongful death civil lawsuit. The laws surrounding wrongful death claims and the procedures dictating how the lawsuit is controlled are different in each state, but there are also common principles present in every wrongful death case.

A wrongful death criminal case is one brought about by a prosecutor or district attorney and may result in hefty fines or imprisonment for the responsible party, but criminal cases do not award any damages to the surviving family members. This is done with a civil wrongful death lawsuit instead.

For a wrongful death civil case, the surviving family members may be able to recover compensation for a number of different damages such as:

  • Loss in affection, comfort, love, companionship, and support that the wrongfully deceased would have provided.
  • Value of the household income and services that the wrongfully deceased would have provided were they still alive.
  • Value of the income that the wrongfully deceased would have received if they were still alive.


Common Causes of Wrongful Death Injuries

Below are some of the most common situations that lead to wrongful death in the United States.

Wrongful Death Statute of Limitations

The statute of limitations, or time the plaintiff has to legally pursue the wrongful death claim, is a different length in each state. It’s at least 1 year long in every state in the country, but for wrongful death claims brought against government employees, the limitation is as little as 30 days in some cases.

State Statute Length
Alabama  2 years
Alaska  2 years
Arizona  2 years
Arkansas 3 years
California 2 years
Colorado 2 years
Connecticut 2 years
Delaware 2 years
District of Columbia 3 years
Florida 4 years
Georgia 2 years
Hawaii 2 years
Idaho 2 years
Illinois 2 years
Indiana 2 years
Iowa 2 years
Kansas 2 years
Kentucky 1 year
Louisiana 1 year
Maine 6 years
Maryland 3 years
Massachusetts 3 years
Michigan 3 years
Minnesota 2 years
Mississippi 3 years
Missouri 5 years
Montana 3 years
Nebraska 4 years
Nevada 2 years
New Hampshire 3 years
New Jersey 2 years 2 years
Montana 3 years
Nebraska 4 years
Nevada 2 years
New Hampshire 3 years
New Jersey 2 years
New Mexico 3 years
New York 3 years
North Carolina 3 years
North Dakota 2 years
Ohio 2 years
Oklahoma 2 years
Oregon 2 years
Pennsylvania 2 years
Rhode Island 3 years
South Carolina 3 years
South Dakota 3 years
Tennessee 1 year
Texas 2 years
Utah 4 years
Vermont 3 years
Virginia 2 years
Washington 3 years
West Virginia 2 years
Wisconsin 3 years
Wyoming 4 years

Elements Involved in Proving Wrongful Death

There are four major elements involved in proving negligence, recklessness, or carelessness in a wrongful death case. The plaintiff has to be able to show that the responsible driver had a duty to drive safely, that they breached that duty, that the breach of that duty led to the accident which caused the victim to wrongfully die, and that there were damages suffered as a result of the accident caused by the breach of duty to act as a reasonable person.

Proving Duty

The first element that must be proven is that the defendant had a duty of care which constitutes a legal obligation to drive responsibly & reasonably. For example, driving under the influence is a breach of this duty to drive as a reasonable person would. Doctors and other medical health professionals are held to a duty of care that involves maintaining a patient’s health.

A judge is the one who decides whether or not the defendant was responsible for upholding their duty of care in a wrongful death case. Judges weigh a number of different factors in this decision such as the defendant’s moral disposition, findings from similar cases, how foreseeable the accident or harm was, and how closely the defendant’s actions and the harm caused were connected.

Proving Breach of Duty

Once it’s proven that the defendant had a duty to act reasonably, then the next element that must be proven is that the defendant breached that duty. For example, if the defendant was texting on their phone or doing something else that would cause them to turn attention away from the road, then the argument can be made that they’ve breached their duty as they’ve acted in a way in which a reasonable driver would not have.

The plaintiff must be able to prove that the defendant’s reckless, careless, or negligent actions caused a breach of that duty.

Proving Causation

Next, the plaintiff must prove that the defendant’s negligent breach of duty directly caused harm to the decedent. For vehicle accidents, this could involve proving that the defendant’s inattentiveness to the road caused the fatal accident or that their vehicle was the one that struck & killed the decedent.

In some states, defendants can be held partially responsible for causing the wrongful death based on the % of fault they are found to be at for causing the accident or injury. For example, in California, if a defendant is found to be only 50% at fault for the accident, then the plaintiff may only be able to recover 50% of the damages resulting from the incident because they were not all caused by the defendant.

Proving Damages

The final element that must be proven in addition to the other three is that the decedent suffered damages as a result of the defendant’s breach of duty. In wrongful death cases, the decedent’s death is considered to be the main form of damage if a breach of duty and causation has already been proven. If there is insufficient evidence to prove that the victim suffered harm or damages as a result of the breach of duty, then the plaintiff will likely not be able to win the case.

Evidence Used to Support Wrongful Death Claims

Doctor examining x-ray in disbelief

Many different types of evidence are used in wrongful death cases to prove the duty, breach of duty, causation, and damages allegedly caused by the defendant. These are common types of evidence that are submitted in wrongful death cases:

  • Medical records & reports
  • Accident scene photographs & third-party analysis
  • Video footage of the accident from traffic monitors or witnesses
  • Driving records and logs
  • Police reports
  • Expert testimony from accident reconstruction professionals
  • Statements from eyewitnesses

Get in Touch with a Wrongful Death Lawyer at Heidari Law Group

If you’re looking for more information about wrongful death or want a free case evaluation, give us a call at Heidari Law Group today at 1-833-225-5454. You don’t have to face the courts alone. Our team of personal injury attorneys has an extensive history in dealing with wrongful death cases around the U.S. and we understand the difficulties that families go through after the sudden loss of a loved one. We have the tools available to help you gather a variety of evidence to support your case and build a strong argument based on the facts.

The idea of trying to seek compensation after a loved one has died may seem overwhelming, or even unnecessary, but you deserve to be compensated for the injustices that your family has suffered at the hands of another’s negligence. Reach out to an experienced wrongful death lawyer today.