Accidents happen. However, there’s a significant difference between a minor mistake and deadly negligence. If someone has a responsibility to keep others safe and they don’t do their job, their mistakes can kill people.
If you’ve lost a loved one to a preventable accident, you may have grounds for a wrongful death lawsuit. In this guide, you’ll learn the definition of wrongful death, examples of situations where it may apply, and how you can hold the party responsible for your loved one’s passing accountable for the harm they’ve caused.
What Is Wrongful Death?
According to Florida state statute 768.19, wrongful death occurs “when the death of a person is caused by the wrongful act, negligence, default, or breach of contract or warranty of any person, including those occurring on navigable waters.” In other words, they happen when someone dies because another person has actively or passively caused them harm.
Wrongful death is a civil cause of action, not criminal. This is an important distinction. Criminal homicide charges like manslaughter and murder lead to criminal penalties, including prison time and fines. They also require the defendant to be proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
In contrast, a wrongful death lawsuit is a civil case, so the burden of proof is the preponderance of the evidence. Plaintiffs need to prove that the defendant is more likely than not to be responsible for the passing of their loved one to win the trial.
These lawsuits allow you to pursue damages such as medical bills, funeral costs, pain and suffering, and lost income caused by losing your loved one. You can pursue both criminal and civil actions for the same case, and a not-guilty ruling in the criminal proceedings will not affect the civil case. For example, OJ Simpson was acquitted of murder charges but found liable for the deaths of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman
Examples of Wrongful Deaths
Wrongful death takes many forms but can be divided into five general categories. If your loved one died in one of the following circumstances, you could pursue a civil lawsuit on their behalf.
Negligence is the fundamental cause of most wrongful deaths. Negligence is defined as “a failure to behave with the level of care that someone of ordinary prudence would have exercised under the same circumstances.” This can include decisions to ignore the prudent level of care or omissions that lead to a breach of a duty of care.
For example, businesses have a duty of care toward their patrons to make their premises safe. If someone dies in a rollercoaster accident because the theme park failed to perform regular maintenance, the park is negligent. Similarly, if someone dies after slipping on a wet restaurant floor and hitting their head, the restaurant may have been negligent. If negligence is proven, the negligent party is liable for the death.
Few professionals have as much of a duty of care as medical workers. If a healthcare worker neglects a patient by failing to provide the industry standard of care, they are committing medical malpractice. This includes overdosing patients, making surgical mistakes, or failing to respond to signs of declining health. Any demise due to medical malpractice is a form of wrongful death, and the deceased’s loved ones can file a civil lawsuit on both causes of action.
Consumer safety is a critical aspect of modern legislation. Companies are responsible for producing safe products and warning users about potential dangers caused by incorrect use. If they fail these responsibilities, they may be liable for deaths caused by their products. Common reasons for these product claims include:
- Products with manufacturing defects that make them dangerous, such as cars with faulty brakes or foods with deadly bacterial contamination.
- Products that are made correctly but have a fundamental design flaw that makes them dangerous, such as flammable children’s clothes or four-wheelers without rollover bars.
Car accidents are one of the top causes of death in the US, with more than 32,000 people dying in a vehicle crash yearly. Many of these deaths are entirely preventable. If a driver hit your loved one or the vehicle that they were in, that driver may be liable for their loss. This is particularly likely if the driver was:
- Ignoring traffic signals
- Driving the wrong way on a road
- Driving without a license
These conditions make it more likely that the other driver was at fault for the accident. They are liable for the death if they were at fault, and their insurance is responsible for covering the damages for your loved one’s passing.
Wrongful deaths can also occur after assaults. If someone actively tried to harm your loved one and caused them to die, you have grounds for a lawsuit. The assault may or may not have been a criminal act; that is irrelevant to the civil case. It is possible to win a civil case even when the criminal trial leads to a not-guilty verdict.
Whether someone pushed your family member down the stairs, punched them in the face, or actively tried to kill them, you can pursue a wrongful death claim during or after the criminal proceedings.
Honor Your Loved One’s Memory by Holding Liable Parties Responsible
Losing a family member is never easy. If they were taken from you too soon because of someone else’s actions, you could hold the responsible party accountable for their actions. Filing a wrongful death claim on their behalf allows you to take negligent or malicious parties to task. It also allows you to fight for damages to cover the financial expenses and other losses you’ve suffered due to their loss.
At the Law Offices of Gomez & Gomez, we understand your pain. We will work with you to find the best possible legal solution to your case. Let us help you honor your loved one’s memory by making the responsible parties face the consequences of their actions. Call us at 305-825-5506 or reach out online to get started.