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Wrongful Death

Definition - What does Wrongful Death mean?

Wrongful death is the death caused by the negligent or misconduct of another person. A wrongful death can follow a criminal action or an unintentional or intentional civil action.

If a wrongful death claim is caused by a criminal act the perpetuator can be charged with a crime. But a civil injury claim can also be filed regardless of whether a person is charged or convicted.

For example, a person accused of murder can also have a civil wrongful death claim filed against them, and the claimant may be found liable for the death even if they are not ultimately convicted criminally for the murder.

One of the most famous examples of this occurred in the O.J. Simpson case. Although O.J. Simpson was found not guilty of killing Nicole Simpson in 1995 by a criminal court, he later lost a civil trial and was ordered to pay over $25 million in punitive damages to the families of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald L. Goldman.

Compensation for a wrongful death claim

Wrongful death compensation can include financial payment given to the plaintiff to compensate them for pecuniary injuries including:

  • Medical expenses
  • Funeral costs
  • Loss of income from the deceased
  • Loss of support
  • Loss of services
  • Loss of consortium

Calculating compensation after a wrongful death

To determine the amount of compensation following a wrongful death the court considers a variety of factors: the decedent’s age, their health condition, their earning capacity, and their character. If it is a jury case the jury’s decision may be increased or decreased by the court for a variety of reasons.

Other compensation for wrongful death can include punitive damages. Punitive damages, which are payments which exceed normal injury payments and are used to punish the defendant, are only allowed in certain states. Other states bar the recovery of punitive damages.

Finally, compensation for wrongful death may also include damages for survival actions, which may be paid if the plaintiff can prove the injured party suffered an extended period after the injury, had a degree of consciousness, and suffered a high degree of pain.

Winning a wrongful death claim

To win a wrongful death claim a plaintiff must prove certain elements of their wrongful death.

  • The actions of the defendant resulted in the death of a human being.
  • The death was a result of the defendant’s negligent actions (with or without intent).
  • They have suffered loss from the death.
  • They were appointed the personal representative for the decedent's estate.

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