While a personal injury lawsuit can get complicated, it is essentially a very simple concept: A person who is injured sues the party he or she feels caused that injury through negligence. But what happens when it’s not just injury but death? Obviously a death can involve negligence, too. There are certainly victims—not only the person who died but also the family, which may be suffering financially as well as emotionally. How does the law provide recourse for the deceased’s loved ones?
The answer is a wrongful death lawsuit. Such an action is typically brought by close relatives in civil court—as opposed to criminal court. In many states, such as Florida, a wrongful death statute specifies who may bring a claim. Damages aren’t penal in nature—there is no jail time awarded—and they are usually monetary, as compensation for an act that proved fatal.
While often based in statute today, wrongful death lawsuits trace their roots to the common law. The idea was to correct an odd—and unjust—situation caused by the inability of a dead person to bring a lawsuit. While an act that caused an injury could result in a civil sanction, an act that caused death would not. By allowing others who had been impacted to bring suit, wrongful death claims enabled proper accountability and financial recovery.
Wrongful death lawsuits can result from a host of situations: negligence that caused death as a result of medical malpractice, an automobile accident, an airplane crash, and countless other cases. It can be brought by the family of a murder victim, too.
Civil and criminal actions stemming from a death are not mutually exclusive. Granted, wrongful death lawsuits have a lower standard of proof—guilt must be shown by “a preponderance of the evidence” as opposed to “beyond a reasonable doubt.” As a result, such cases sometimes more easily provide closure and accountability for the survivors of a murder or manslaughter victim. Case in point: While O.J. Simpson was acquitted in his murder case, he was found guilty in the subsequent wrongful death case.
A wrongful death suit is also the recourse of choice when the death wasn’t caused by an individual, but a company. This is, for example, the way many survivors of smokers who died of lung cancer sued tobacco companies.
Of course, wrongful death lawsuits can get complicated, too, and statutes will vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. That’s why it’s important to seek the assistance of a law firm experienced in wrongful death claims. You want a track record—like the one built up over decades by the Miami wrongful death lawyers at Grossman Roth, P.A. But you also want to know that the firm isn’t just your legal counsel but your partner, able to work with you and be available for you as you seek some measure of financial recovery and accountability for the catastrophic act that didn’t just impact your life—but changed it forever.