Many people are unaware of the differences between a murder case and a wrongful death lawsuit. Everyone knows that the lawsuits are divided into two broad categories, civil and criminal. Civil cases include a lawsuit that is filed by one citizen to sue others. In fact, most civil cases do not include incarceration (with some exceptions where a civil case reveals any criminal activities involved) they will be most likely settled between the two parties on compensation for the damages.
However, criminal lawsuits are filed when there is a violation of the criminal laws, and lawsuits will be instituted by the government prosecutors representing the state and victims.
A wrongful death lawsuit comes under the civil cases and will be filed by the survivors of the deceased person. Such cases rarely lead to incarceration. But murder comes under the criminal lawsuit and might result in incarceration of the dependent based on the situation.
Wrongful Death Lawsuits
Such lawsuits are civil actions and will be usually filed by close relatives or the estate of the deceased person. A wrongful death lawyer will be the one who files the lawsuit in the court on behalf of the survivors of the victim.
A wrongful death lawsuit comes into play when a person’s death occurs because of the negligent or deliberate act of another person. Such a lawsuit can be filed even if there is an ongoing murder case for the same incident. A wrongful death lawsuit deals with recovering monetary compensation for the victim’s survivors than punishing the person who is at fault.
A murder case arises when one person intentionally kills another person. Unlike the wrongful death lawsuit, which is filed by the relatives of a deceased person, the murder charges are brought by the state against an individual. Such cases will involve imprisonment of the perpetrator and also death penalty in some specific cases. Murder is a kind of wrongful death, but all wrongful deaths cannot be categorized as murders.
Burdens Of Proof
The burden of proof refers to the amount of proof that you will have to present in order to convince the judge or jury that a wrongful death or murder did occur. Murder and wrongful death cases have different burdens of proof.
For wrongful death, you have to prove that there is at least a 51 percent chance for the death to be wrongful, which is known as the “preponderance of the evidence”.
But for a murder case, the lawyer will have to prove that “beyond a reasonable doubt” the defendant committed the murder, i.e., for the defendant to be punished for a murder case, it should be established with 100 percent surety that the defendant killed the victim. If the defendant is found guilty of the murder, then he/she will be punished according to the severity of the case. The punishment will most likely be imprisonment for a specific time as ordered by the judge, but in some cases, if the jury and judge agree that the defendant deserves maximum punishment, a death warrant will be given to the defendant.
Levels of Intent
Murder cases and wrongful death lawsuits can also vary in the type of conduct that will be punished. In the case of wrongful death, the defendant may have been simply negligent (for example, an accident caused by the negligence of the driver). But it is also possible for the intentional conduct to form the basis for a wrongful death lawsuit, i.e., even if the defendant intentionally killed the victim, a wrongful death lawsuit can be filed.
However, as mentioned earlier, all wrongful deaths cannot be claimed as a murder. Therefore, many actions that resulted in wrongful death cannot be considered to be a reason that led to a murder. For example, the negligence of a car driver which resulted in another person’s death can be considered as a reason for wrongful death, but it cannot be always considered as a murder.
Things to prove in a wrongful death case
In order for the plaintiff to recover any compensation from a wrongful death lawsuit, he/she will have to prove that the defendant’s negligence or intentional act lead to the death of the victim. In normal cases, the plaintiff will have to prove the following elements:
Duty of Care: In order for the plaintiff to get awarded for the damages, it should be proven in the court that the defendant owed a duty of care to the victim. For example, if the victim died in a car accident, then it should be established that the defendant has an obligation to drive carefully and to obey the Rules of the Road.
Breach of Duty of Care: The next step is to prove that the defendant breached the duty of care which he/she owed to the deceased person. For example, in the case mentioned above, the plaintiff should establish that the defendant failed to obey traffic laws by over speeding, or by running a red light or by any other actions.
Causation: After proving the above two factors, the plaintiff should also prove to the court that, the defendant’s particular action resulted in the wrongful death.