In 2020, the number of unintentional deaths in the United States was 200,955. This represents around 6% of all deaths and ranks unintentional injuries or accidents as the fourth leading cause of death in the U.S. Examples of unintentional death can include the following:
- Motor vehicle accidents
- Slips, trips and falls
- Workplace accidents
- Defective products
- Accidental poisoning and overdoses
Another common cause of accidental death involves medical errors where a healthcare provider is negligent in their duties leading to the death of their patient. Common medical errors include unnecessary surgery, diagnostic errors, hospital-acquired infections, delays in treatment and inadequate follow-up care. If you have lost a loved one as a result of a medical error you may be able to pursue a wrongful death claim against the party responsible and an experienced law firm such as The Tinker Law Firm PLLC can advise you of your rights.
While in certain situations an unintentional accident or injury may result in a wrongful death, this is not necessarily so and each case will depend on the facts. This article will explain some of the essential elements needed to successfully pursue a wrongful death claim.
What Is Wrongful Death?
Wrongful death is a civil action that can be brought by the surviving family members against the party responsible for the death, compensating them for the loss of their loved one.
In legal terms, wrongful death happens when a person dies due to the wilful or negligent act or omission of another person. Similar to personal injury cases, a wrongful death lawsuit is based on negligence and requires proving that the victim died as a result of another’s negligence.
As opposed to a criminal case where the legal standard of proof requires proving guilt ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’, in a civil action such as for wrongful death, the standard of proof is lower and negligence must be proven by a ‘preponderance of the evidence’. In other words, the plaintiff must prove that the defendant is more likely than not responsible for the death.
What Must Be Proved?
A wrongful death claim centers on proving the deceased died as a result of the other party’s negligence. Generally speaking, negligence is the failure to behave with the level of care that a reasonably prudent person would have exercised under similar circumstances. The plaintiff has the burden of proving the following elements of negligence existed:
- Duty of Care – The plaintiff has to prove that there was a duty of care between the defendant and the deceased. This is usually satisfied by the doctor-patient relationship.
- Breach of Duty of Care – The plaintiff must prove the defendant breached their duty of care in some way.
- Causation – It must be shown that the defendant’s actions or omissions directly led to the patient’s death or the injuries which eventually led to their death.
- Damages – The patient’s death must result in a quantifiable loss for the plaintiff for which they can be financially compensated. This may include medical expenses, funeral and burial costs, mental anguish, loss of future income and the loss of consortium.
A court can also award punitive damages where the defendant’s conduct was particularly reckless or egregious resulting in the deceased’s death.
This article can offer guidance if you feel you have grounds for bringing a wrongful death claim.