Your Guide to Determining Negligence in a Wrongful Death Lawsuit

Wrongful death happens when a person’s misconduct or negligence results in another person’s death. Depending on the situation, the person who caused the death may be subject to criminal prosecution. A wrongful death lawsuit is a civil procedure separate from a criminal case.

According to the CDC, motor vehicle accidents are one of the leading causes of accidental deaths in the U.S. In 2019 there were 37,595 deaths due to auto accidents. Surprisingly, the rate of death is higher for vehicle occupants than it is for motorcyclists, pedal cyclists, and pedestrians.

Medical error or accident is the leading cause of accidental death in the country. The medical error death rate is about 440,000 per year.

Following close behind is the 8th leading cause of death in the U.S. Medication errors account for the death of 7,000 to 9,000 Americans every year.

Unintentional deaths include workplace injuries. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 5,333 people died at work in 2019.

The majority of wrongful deaths are the result of negligence. Your wrongful death attorney understands the steps necessary in determining negligence, and we are going to share those with you here.

Proving Negligence in a Wrongful Death Lawsuit

When you are trying to prove a party is negligent, there are four elements that must be stated in the pleadings. The complaint must also specify how the defendant is liable under each of those elements:

  • That the defendant owed a duty to behave in a careful and prudent manner
  • That the defendant’s actions are a breach of their duty
  • That the plaintiff’s injuries are the direct and proximate result of the defendant’s breach
  • That because of the defendant’s negligence the defendant incurred damages

Your wrongful death lawyer will list those damages. This may include medical expenses, loss of financial support, emotional pain and suffering, loss of consortium, funeral expenses, and more.

The final portion of the negligent count is the prayer for relief. This is where your attorney states what you are requesting the court awards you for your loss.

Medical Negligence

When a person is undergoing medical care there is an expected level of care. When mistakes or misconduct happen that result in premature death, the surviving family members may be able to file a wrongful death claim.

The lawsuit may include several defendants. This includes the hospital, doctors, nurses, specialists, therapists, or other staff members believed to be a part of the negligent act.

In a medical negligence claim, the lawsuit will likely include the additional element of medical malpractice. This means that the provider of healthcare was negligent in the care they provided and that it deviated from acceptable medical standards of care. This negligence may include:

  • Incorrect diagnosis
  • Failure to diagnose
  • Improper medications prescribed
  • Failure to prescribe medications
  • Medication not administered properly
  • Failure to exercise proper hygiene or infection control
  • Surgical errors

Your attorney will scrutinize the evidence to determine if there is just cause for a lawsuit against the hospital and/or medical care providers. Not all illnesses or deaths in a hospital are the result of negligence.

Hospitals may be named if it is determined that the hospital is negligent in its procedures for hiring or training personnel. They are responsible for everyone on their staff, including healthcare providers, support staff, and technicians.

Hospitals may also be a co-defendant if the doctor’s medical malpractice insurance is not sufficient to cover the damages. For example, in the case of wrongful death due to an error made during surgery, both the surgeon and the hospital may be defendants in the lawsuit.

Auto Accident Negligence

Car accidents and pedestrians hit by a car are common causes of wrongful death lawsuits. In a wrongful death lawsuit, the plaintiff needs to prove the defendant driver was negligent or reckless behind the wheel, leading to death.

There are numerous acts a driver may engage in that can result in a finding of negligence, including:

  • Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs
  • Distracted driving, which includes texting, using a cell phone, adjusting the radio, eating, and more
  • Failure to follow traffic signals including stop signs, red lights
  • Failure to yield the right-of-way
  • Speeding

When a driver fails to exercise the proper duty of care in their driving and causes injury to others, they may be held liable for those actions.

Workplace Negligence

To file a workplace wrongful death lawsuit, the person must have been an employee who died while on the job. It may also be due to things such as exposure to chemicals on the job.

There are several high-risk occupations that have a higher workplace injury rate. This includes agricultural workers, pilots, flight engineers, transportation, construction trades, and waste management workers.

Defective Products

There are numerous products that have the potential for defects causing wrongful death. This includes medications, appliances, medical devices, automobiles, farming equipment, and more.

The plaintiff needs to prove that the product had a manufacturing defect. They must also show that the defect was the direct and proximate cause of the person’s death.

Violent Crime

If the person guilty of a violent crime is known, they may be held liable for the wrongful death of a person who died as a result of that crime. This can be through direct actions such as stabbings, gunshot wounds, or blows to the head. It may also be indirect, such as an innocent shopper killed during the armed robbery of a bank or store.

Who Can File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?

In the state of California, surviving family members may file a lawsuit for wrongful death. Because of its lower standard of proof, it is not unusual for a person to be acquitted in a criminal trial, but found liable in a civil lawsuit for wrongful death.

When it comes to wrongful death, the plaintiff does not have to prove “beyond a reasonable doubt.” They only need to show that there is a “preponderance of evidence” the defendant is liable for the death.

The law that covers wrongful death is found in the California Code of Civil Procedure, CCP §377.60. The law allows the spouse or domestic partner, children, or issue of deceased children, to file a claim.

If these people do not survive the deceased, those who may file a lawsuit are determined by the rules of intestate succession. Others who may file include anyone who was dependent on the decedent for support, including a putative spouse, stepchildren, or parents.

It is important to speak with a wrongful death attorney as soon as possible. The Statute of Limitations on wrongful death is two (2) years pursuant to CCP §335.1.

Request a Case Evaluation

If you have a loved one who died due to another person’s negligent actions, contact Sweet Lawyers for a free case evaluation. We will review the facts of your situation and provide you with our legal opinion on whether you need to file a wrongful death lawsuit.

Our law firm has more than 40 years of legal experience and is proud of our  98% success rate. If you don’t believe us, check our case results then call us at 1-800-674-7854 to schedule an appointment.

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