American law is confusing for a layperson, and it can be hard to understand what each subset of law truly covers. In addition, legal terminology is quite precise, sometimes using terms that do not have the same meaning as in everyday conversation. One of those terms that can be difficult to decipher is wrongful death, even though it seems rather easy to understand.
Wrongful death is a major component of the legal system that falls under personal injury. It exploded into the public consciousness with the recent lawsuit against former president Donald Trump, who was sued by family members of the late Brian Sicknick, a Capitol Police officer who was killed during the events on January 6, 2021. The lawsuit alleges that Donald Trump was a key factor in Sicknick’s death because he incited those who stormed the Capitol, ultimately leading to the police officer’s death.
Wrongful death is a huge component of the American legal system, though the average person does not fully understand it. Let’s take a closer look at this type of lawsuit, then learn what type of lawyer handles these cases.
The meaning of wrongful death
Cornell Law School explains that wrongful death is a type of civil lawsuit brought against those who knowingly or negligently causes the death of another person. It’s important to note that this is a civil matter rather than a criminal matter, meaning that a successful wrongful death lawsuit will not result in jail time for the defendant. However, it can be tried as a criminal matter; in other words, someone who causes the death of another person could face both jail time as well as paying a large settlement to the grieving family.
Wrongful death lawsuits are meant to recoup the financial losses of the person’s death, including their lost wages, the cost of a funeral, and the emotional damages wrought on their family. Many factors go into determining a settlement for a wrongful death lawsuit, including the person’s income before death, how much the funeral costs, and how much the grieving family relied upon them financially.
For example, suppose a single mother working at a well-paying job is killed and her children are orphaned. In that case, the family will likely receive a much larger settlement than if a teenager who only had a summer job and no dependents were killed. This is not to say that either person is more important than the other, just that a family is more financially impacted by the death of the primary household earner.
Why would a family pursue a wrongful death lawsuit?
You might wonder why a family would seek legal compensation in a wrongful death lawsuit rather than leave the matter to the state’s prosecutors.
The reason is that damages paid out from criminal lawsuits are generally much smaller than those that can be inflicted in civil court, and the burden of proof is much lower for civil cases. Whereas a criminal case can drag on for years, a civil case is generally settled much faster, and not as much evidence is necessary to prove the defendant’s guilt.
Mostly, the proof for wrongful death civil lawsuit is that the defendant knowingly or negligently caused the death of the decedent; those bringing the lawsuit relied upon the decedent for financial support; and the loss of their income, as well as the costs associated with their death, have placed a financial strain upon the family. This is a much lower bar than a criminal case, where it must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant was directly responsible for the death.
What kinds of lawyers are necessary for a wrongful death lawsuit?
Wrongful death lawsuits fall under personal injury, covering medical malpractice, workers’ compensation, nursing home abuse, and car accidents. These law firms can be found throughout the country, and the field is very crowded, which means that those seeking financial compensation for the death of a loved one should search for a highly qualified personal injury law firm near their location.
Many law firms cover a large area of service or may even work nationally on cases; for example, Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers works throughout Northern Illinois, including the major cities of Chicago, Peoria, and Rockford. They have also worked on cases further afield.
When looking for a personal injury lawyer for a wrongful death lawsuit, search for one that is the most highly qualified and has netted large settlements for similar cases, even if they may not be in your area. They are often willing to work on cases further out of their service area if qualified to practice law in a given state.