Four Essential Elements of a Wrongful Death Case

July 31, 2022 Posted In Wrongful Death

To hold a party liable for a wrongful death requires proving that their negligence was the cause of your loved one’s death. Negligence is a legal term used to refer to a party’s failure to use reasonable care in any given situation. Establishing negligence is the key to a successful claim and involves demonstrating the following four elements. 

4 essential elements of a wrongful death case

Duty of Care

The defendant (at-fault party) must have owed the victim a duty of care. A duty of care is a legal obligation to exercise reasonable care to prevent harm to others. Whether the defendant owed the victim a duty of care will depend on the facts specific to your case. For example, in a car accident wrongful death case, a driver who causes a collision owed a duty of care to the victim to drive safely and follow traffic laws. In medical malpractice wrongful death claims, physicians owe patients a duty of care to provide the same skills, training, and care as other doctors in their community. 

Breach of Duty of Care

To establish the defendant breached their duty of care requires proving what another reasonable person or entity would have done in a similar situation. Since different situations call for a lower or higher duty of care, whether the defendant’s behavior was “reasonable” will often be a highly contentious issue. For instance, it is against the law for a driver to operate a vehicle while under the influence of alcohol, so proving a breach of care will not be hard. However, in other cases, it is not always so straightforward. 

Proximate Cause

In addition to proving the defendant breached their duty of care, there must also be a link between it and the victim’s cause of death. In other words, the victim would not have died but for the defendant’s breach of care. For instance, in a case involving a drunk driver, the victim would not have been killed if the driver who hit them had been sober. Medical records from after the accident can prove the victim’s injuries from the crash led to their death. In many San Bernardino wrongful death cases, testimony from hired experts is needed to establish causation. For example, an attorney may hire a medical expert to testify to the extent of the victim’s injuries, how they were caused and why they died, or an accident reconstruction expert to demonstrate how the accident occurred and who was at fault. 

Damages

The final element to prove a case of wrongful death is damages. There must be evidence that the victim’s family suffered losses that require reimbursement. For example, medical bills caused by the fatal injuries, funeral and burial expenses, loss of financial support and potential earnings, benefits, inheritance, companionship, protection, services, etc. Proving these losses requires documentation such as bills, receipts, pay stubs, or tax returns, experts to confirm anticipated losses and the value of the claim, as well as testimony from family on the impact of the loss of their loved one.

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