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How To Prove A Wrongful Death Claim?

When someone dies due to the actions of another, the survivors of the victim have a claim against the person or entity that caused their loved one’s death. Typically, the claim is to seek compensation for the pain and suffering of the survivor’s as well as their financial damages, including loss of wages of the victim. To have a successful wrongful death claim, the plaintiffs need to prove four separate things.


1) The defendant acted in a negligent manner which caused the death. “Negligence” is a loaded term in the law and basically means that the person or entity failed to use reasonable care in the situation. So, a drunk driver who runs a red light and hits another car has acted negligently because they did not use reasonable care and stop at the red light. Similarly, an employer acts negligently when it fails to fix an obvious safety hazard that causes a death after being notified of the hazard and that it had caused injuries.


2) The defendant breached their duty of care to the victim. What this element is really getting at is that the defendant owed a duty of care to the victim and breached that duty. A doctor owes a patient a duty of care to take care of them and not injure or kill them. Drivers owe each other a duty of care to obey the rules of the road which will allow them to avoid accidents. Employers owe their employees a duty of care to ensure they have safe working conditions.


3) The defendant’s breach of their duty caused the death. This is the hardest part often to prove since it requires that not only did the defendant act negligently and breach their duty, but that was the cause of the death of the victim. In some cases, this is clear cut such as car accidents involving impaired drivers. The hill becomes a lot harder to climb when the connection between the duty of care and the person’s death becomes more tenuous. For example, it is often very difficult for a plaintiff to prove that a manufacturer’s product was the sole cause of the death of their loved one since it is rarely that obvious and the manner in which the victim was using the product could have contributed to their death.


4) The death of the victim caused damages to the survivors. Rarely, if ever, does a wrongful death claim end at this element as there are almost always some damages that have been suffered by the survivors of the victim. These include expenses for medical treatment, hospitalization, burial, loss of potential earnings and income, and even the pain and suffering of the victim before death.  Survivors’ pain and suffering is also a legitimate claim.


Regardless of the circumstances surrounding the death of the victim, it is imperative that the survivors meet with a competent and skilled personal injury attorney as soon as possible to begin investigating the claim. Wrongful death suits have a statute of limitations that depending upon the state can be fairly short.

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