How is fault proven in wrongful death lawsuits?

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Should a close loved one die due to another party’s actions, the correct response is a wrongful death lawsuit.

This is an important legal process that will earn you compensation to account for the losses suffered from a deceased family member. Often, death will cause several financial ramifications that can drastically change your living situation.

Considering that the death was directly caused by someone else, your losses are their responsibility to cover. With a successful wrongful death case, the other party will be legally obligated to compensate you.

Unfortunately, wrongful death lawsuits are typically not easy proceedings. State negligence laws impact eligibility for compensation, so many people will try to deflect blame to avoid payment.

Preventing this entails understanding how fault is proven in a wrongful death lawsuit. We’ll explain the four key steps in this process below to give you the greatest odds of winning your case.

Established Duty of Care

First, there must have been an established duty of care between the deceased and the other party.

Duty of care includes two important components.

First, it means that someone must avoid acting in any way that results in an injury to someone else. This is fairly straightforward and requires that someone working is always looking for others and careful to refrain from risky or endangering behavior.

The second part of this is more complicated. The other party in question must take preventative action to eliminate any reasonably foreseeable dangers.

A good way to understand this is by looking at a construction site. Working from heights is always dangerous, so some form of fall protection is a must beyond five feet. In this situation, whoever oversees the site has a duty of care to all of the workers.

With this in mind, the other party you’re going after must have had some responsibility to keep your recently-passed loved one safe. 

Breached Duty of Care

Next, you must show that this duty of care was explicitly breached.

This is important for displaying that the other party made an egregious error that violated their responsibility. The magnitude of the error is irrelevant, especially if it was enough to cause death.

To determine if a breach has happened, you should think back to the two elements of duty of care. Did the other party do anything that directly caused harm? Alternatively, did they fail to address a safety hazard?

Whether it was direct or indirect, any breach is enough to show fault. This is because it points to negligence, which is the failure to do something properly.

Breached duty of care is often not straightforward. Instead, you’ll need to consider if the accident was foreseeable and if the other party had any reasonable alternatives they neglected.

Accident Causation

From here, you’ll need to prove that the breach of duty caused the accident.

Negligence is almost enough to make another party guilty, but you also need to illustrate the severity of the accident. Mistakes happen regularly, but they don’t always result in serious accidents.

Considering this, you’ll need to show how the other party’s negligence led to the accident. A perfect example of this is a drunk driver that causes a fatal crash.

The drunk driver’s intoxication impaired their ability to drive and their choice to drive anyway was negligent. As a result of their intoxication and impacted driving skills, they could not effectively handle their vehicle or make clear judgment calls and caused a crash.

In other words, you need to show how the other party’s negligence and the accident are connected. Once you find a solid link, it becomes much easier to prove that the other party is at fault.

Direct Damages

Lastly, there must be proof that the accident directly caused the fatality.

This may not seem relevant, but it’s a final piece that you can’t overlook. With any fatality involving an accident, there’s always a slim possibility that the accident didn’t cause the death. However, the timing of both incidents can make it easy to blame the accident.

Situations where this would happen is if someone has a medical condition. If they suffer a heart attack or stroke from something unrelated to the accident, then their death is not wrongful because the accident didn’t cause it.

In all likelihood, this won’t be the case. However, the small chance of it being true requires you to show that the accident caused death. A medical examiner’s autopsy will typically indicate the manner of death, which will show if an accident is the reason.

Closing Thoughts

When trying to recover from a family death, you may pursue a wrongful death lawsuit should the passing be untimely. This requires the other party to have acted negligently, with their negligence resulting in death.

To win a wrongful death case, you need to prove that the other party’s at fault. This entails showing that there is an established duty of care, the duty of care was breached, the breach caused the accident, and the accident caused the fatality.

The formula that makes up the determination of fault is simple, but it’s much trickier to evaluate in a real situation. For this, you should seek a skilled lawyer that knows exactly where to look and what to look for to help you win your case.

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