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What Are the Elements of Wrongful Death?


When someone sues another for wrongful death, it means that a relative was killed because of the misconduct or negligence of the defendant. A criminal trial is not required for a wrongful death lawsuit to be filed; however, the standard of care needed to prove wrongful death is lower than what is usually needed to convict someone of a crime associated with that person’s death.

There are four wrongful death elements. These are:

  • A human being died;
  • The death was due to negligent actions or because someone intended to cause harm;
  • The family members of the deceased individual are suffering a financial injury because of their loved one’s death, and;
  • A personal representative has been appointed for the deceased person’s estate.

There are many situations in which a wrongful death action might arise. These include:

  • A motor vehicle accident
  • Medical malpractice
  • Someone’s death due to criminal behavior
  • Someone’s death that occurred while he or she was being supervised by another.

There are different types of damages in a wrongful death lawsuit. Pecuniary damages are things like medical expenses, funeral costs, loss of support and wages, lost inheritances and more. A financial expert may be called in to determine the amount of pecuniary damages. Some states allow the family to seek punitive damages, which are meant to punish the defendant.

An attorney can advise you on the types of damages that you may seek, as well as what your legal rights are as the case proceeds through court. This should be done as soon as possible so that the statute of limitations is still in effect.

Source: FindLaw, “Wrongful Death Overview,” accessed April. 10, 2015