What Are the Elements of a Wrongful Death Case?

The sudden death of a loved one is always painful and traumatic. But when it occurs as the direct result of another person’s actions or negligence, it’s even more painful. When a person’s death is due to the negligence, recklessness, or willful misconduct of another person, the surviving family members may file a wrongful death lawsuit against that person. While monetary compensation won’t bring a loved one back, it can help relieve the financial burden such a sudden loss imposes on the surviving family members so they can focus on recovering from their anguish and finding a sense of normalcy. If the circumstances of a wrongful death would likely have resulted in a personal injury claim had the victim survived, the family members can successfully win a wrongful death case.

Before considering a wrongful death suit, it’s important to understand these 4 critical elements of a wrongful death case:

  • Negligence
  • Breach of duty of care
  • Causation
  • Damages

Wrongful death cases are civil suits, not criminal proceedings. Family members of victims may pursue a wrongful death case whether or not criminal charges are also pending, in progress, or after a criminal judgment.

Negligence in Wrongful Death Cases

In matters of personal injury and wrongful death, negligence is a failure to act with the care and diligence that a reasonable person would use under the same or similar circumstances. Some common examples of negligence leading to wrongful death cases include the following:

  • Reckless or distracted driving that leads to a car accident
  • Negligent property management or store management that leads to a slip-and-fall death
  • Product manufacturers allowing the sale of defective or dangerous products
  • Medical malpractice

When a person fails to take due diligence in situations that could cause harm to another, they leave themselves open to liability in the tragic event that their failure causes an accidental death.

Understanding Breach of Duty of Care in a Wrongful Death Case

In a wrongful death case, plaintiffs must show a breach of duty of care on the part of the defendant in the case. A “duty of care” owed to another person is the responsibility to act in a reasonable manner in a way that keeps others safe. Healthcare workers and doctors have a duty of care to keep patients in their care safe, and patients have a right to expect that duty. Drivers owe a duty of care to drive responsibly and follow traffic laws. When a person doesn’t take care to act in a manner that avoids foreseeable harm to another person and this results in a death, they are liable in a wrongful death lawsuit.

What is Causation in a Wrongful Death Case?

In wrongful death cases, the plaintiff must prove causation on the part of the person at fault. “Cause in fact” means the person’s actions directly caused the death, while “proximate cause” means the at-fault person bears responsibility for the death because the death was a foreseeable result of their action.

In a wrongful death case, a victim’s family must prove the defendant’s actions led to the death. For example, if a driver runs through a 4-way stop, it’s foreseeable that they could cause a crash with another vehicle in the intersection.

Damages in a Wrongful Death Case

In a wrongful death case, a family member must prove damages caused by the liable party’s actions. In these claims, the individual must show that the wrongful death causes both economic and emotional suffering to the loved ones left behind. While it’s difficult to evaluate the monetary value of a loved one’s life, in court they must clearly define the losses by proving the following:

  • Loss of income and future income
  • Grief and anguish
  • Medical bills
  • Funeral expenses
  • Loss of consortium (loss of the companionship and physical relationship of a spouse)
  • For a parent, loss of care and guidance for children

If a case meets the burden of proof for these 4 elements of a wrongful death case it can move forward.

The legal system in Massachusetts can be difficult to navigate. An attorney skilled in wrongful death lawsuits can help the families of victims achieve justice for their lost loved one and gain the financial security they need to focus on recovering from their devastating loss.