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Tim Misny

Proving Fault in Wrongful Death

PROUDLY REPRESENTING VICTIMS OF BIRTH INJURY, MEDICAL MISTAKES, AND CATASTROPHIC ACCIDENTS THROUGHOUT THE UNITED STATES FOR 38 YEARS

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Wrongful death cases require more than a lawsuit and an attorney. The plaintiff must also prove that the defendant (the person who may have caused the death) actually did so. Since a wrongful death case is unlike a murder trial, the plaintiff will be awarded monetary damages if the defendant is found to have caused the death.

Wrongful Death Damages

No matter the type of wrongful death case, damages may be awarded. Damages can cover everything from general funeral expenses  for the deceased, to compensation equal to or even greater than earnings the person may have made in the lifetime. While it’s up to the court to determine what the damages will be, there are some factors they examine, including everything the deceased did for the loved one(s) filing suit. Of course, before an award is determined, it’s necessary to prove that the defendant is at fault.

Proving Fault

Four steps are required when proving fault in a wrongful death case. It starts with proving duty, which is whether or not the defendant did something wrong that caused the death. The next step is a breach of duty, and that is followed by proving that the defendant is the person who is fully responsible for what happened to the deceased. Finally, the last step involves proving damages, which is the monetary segment of the trial.

Duty

Let’s start with duty. While you may be familiar with the concept of duty in general, it’s a little different in a court of law. For example, if you are behind the wheel of a car, it’s your duty to obey the laws of the road and drive in a safe manner. If you’re a doctor, it’s your duty to do your job as thoroughly as possible in order to avoid making a catastrophic mistake. Proving that you have duty seems common sense, but it’s actually more complicated than that. Since wrongful death cases are conducted in front of a judge, not a jury, the attorneys representing the plaintiff need to prove that the defendant’s actions led to harm.

Breach of Duty

Next is a breach of duty. Once it has been established that the defendant had a duty, the attorneys need to prove the defendant didn’t follow through properly. For example, in the case of a negligent driver, they must show that the driver didn’t follow the traffic laws or drove in a reckless manner. In the example of a doctor, it’s necessary to prove they didn’t follow up with the patient, failed to conduct a certain test, failed to diagnose an illness, prescribed the wrong medication or dose of medication. They didn’t do what they were supposed to (their duty), so they knowingly breached that duty. The word “knowingly” is important here, as the defendant had to know that their actions were wrong.

Causation

After the breach of duty comes causation. The attorney needs to prove that the defendant’s wrongful actions were indeed the cause of death. If the deceased perished due to injuries received in a car accident caused by the defendant, then that is causation. However, if the deceased had a medical condition that led to their death, and it wasn’t caused by the accident, then the defendant isn’t the cause. It does get a bit complicated here, as certain medical conditions can be exacerbated by the accident, leaving the defendant still at fault. In another example, if the doctor’s failure to diagnose a condition led to the patient’s death, then the doctor may be at fault. It all depends on how well causation can be proven.

Damages

After additional steps have been completed and it’s been proven that the defendant had a specific duty, breached that duty, and caused a person’s death, then the plaintiff’s attorney must prove that they owe damages to the plaintiff. For example, if the deceased paid all of the plaintiff’s bills and provided transportation, then that must be proven. Of course, there are additional examples of why damages should be awarded, and the attorney must provide evidence of them as well. If not, the case will be lost, even if the other three  (duty, breach of duty, and causation) are proven.

If you’ve lost a loved one due to someone else’s negligence, contact me, today and. I’ll Make Them Pay!®

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