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A Look at Wrongful Death Law


What is Wrongful Death Law?

      Wrongful death law applies when the defendant’s conduct results in the death of the victim, and surviving family members bring a tort action because they have suffered as a result of the victim’s death.  Wrongful death actions are brought to compensate the survivors.  Wrongful death laws are found in each state’s statutes.  The time limits for filing such suits, eligible survivor qualifications, and permissible damages will vary by state as well. 

      Unlike many other tort actions, wrongful death lawsuits did not exist in common law.  English courts and early American ones simply did not recognize this type of action.  They believed that when a victim died, any right to bring a lawsuit against the tortfeasor ceased to exist.  In the last century, lawmakers reconsidered this premise and determined that it was unjust.  The defendant should not be able to escape liability because the injury was severe enough to cause death.

      Most states recognize both a wrongful death claim and a survivor action.  These actions are aimed at holding the defendant accountable for their wrongdoing.  Wrongful death actions pay compensation to the deceased victim’s family.  The survivors can recover for loss of financial, emotional, and other support that the victim provided to the household. 

      Survival actions, in contrast, pay for damages suffered by the victim due to the defendant’s conduct.  This can include compensation for pain and suffering, medical bills, and other damages the victim endured between the time of injury to death.  Survival damages are generally paid to the victim’s estate and not directly to the family, although they will likely eventually be passed down to the survivors as heirs or beneficiaries of the estate.       

      Wrongful death cases will usually stem from negligence cases.  Examples include automobile accidents, medical malpractice, and premises liability cases.  Wrongful death can also include death that resulted from intentional conduct, including homicide.

Wrongful Death Cases are Unique in the Legal World

      Statutes set out the law concerning wrongful death claims, as opposed to negligence which is judge-made law.  As such, wrongful death cases are generally less open to interpretation by the courts.  Instead, state legislatures set out specific requirements that plaintiffs must meet in order to prevail in a wrongful death action.  Failure to meet these requirements will result in a dismissal of the action. 

      Wrongful death cases may also involve some interplay between civil and criminal proceedings.  Any criminal case brought against the defendant will be filed by the prosecutor on behalf of the state.  Charges can include homicide, voluntary manslaughter, and much more.  A jury must convict the defendant according to the rigorous reasonable doubt standard. 

      In a civil case, the action is filed by the victim’s family to recover monetary damages.  The family must prove the underlying tort and convince jurors by the preponderance of evidence standard, which is a far lower standard than “beyond a reasonable doubt.”  As such, a defendant may not be guilty criminally, but can still be liable civilly. 

Zinda Law Group:  Justice for the Survivors of Deceased Loved Ones  

      The Texas Wrongful Death Attorneys at Zinda Law Group understand the complex and unique laws surrounding wrongful death.  If you have lost a loved one due to negligence or an intentional act, we will fight for your full recovery.

      Wrongful death awards often include damages for emotional pain and suffering, loss of income, loss of inheritance, funeral and burial expenses, exemplary damages, and much.  Call Zinda Law Group toll free at 800-863-5312 to schedule your free consultation with one of our talented and knowledgeable wrongful death attorneys.