When an accident results in a fatality, it can often lead to a wrongful death civil suit, but what exactly does that mean? The
answer isn’t simple. It can mean something different for different situations. By familiarizing yourself with the ways “wrongful
death” is differentiated, you can better understand ow it applies to your specific situation.
Civil Suits vs Criminal Charges
First, it’s important to understand the primary distinction between criminal and civil cases. In a criminal case that involves a death, the state brings charges of murder or manslaughter against a defendant. If found guilty, the defendant is then sentenced to a jail or prison term. Although no damages are awarded, some states can force a convicted defendant to pay restitution.
Civil suits, on the other hand, are instigated by the plaintiff’s complaint and they seek monetary damages from the defendant. A wrongful death civil suit involves a case where the defendant caused the death of the plaintiff’s loved one. The defendant could be an individual, but more often, the defendant is a corporation or business, an insurance company, or a government agency.
In order to win damages in a wrongful death case, the plaintiff must show more than how the defendant’s action or negligence caused the death. They must also show how the death has affected the family in a financial manner, or has affected the family in some other practical matter. Leaving a child without a parent might be one example.
Auto Accidents Can Result in Wrongful Death Claims
Whether the accident is caused by a distracted driver or unsafe road conditions, a traffic fatality can often lead to a civil wrongful death suit. In November 2016, one such case involved two children killed by an SUV, as it swerved on a nearby road and flew over the embankment. During the lawsuit, the driver of the SUV testified that she had to swerve to avoid oncoming traffic, but the jury still forced her to cover 40% of the awarded $4.4 million judgment. The Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development was named as a co-defendant and forced to pay the other 60% of the sum.
Similarly, wrongful death suits can result from incidents aboard passenger planes, trains, and cruise ships. One such case involved an elderly individual who was discovered to be making a disturbance, while locked in the restroom. He was moaning loudly and writhing in pain, but the Southwest Airlines crew assumed he was being distruptive intentionally, instead of treating the situation as a medical emergency. As a result, the man died from a pulmonary embolism and his wife won a judgment against the airline.
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