What Are the Main Elements of a Wrongful Death Claim?
Experienced Florida injury attorneys explain your rights
Every type of legal case requires proof of “elements” that make up the offense. In civil cases for injuries, including those injuries that result in death, the plaintiff has certain elements he or she must prove to obtain compensation for the harm. At Largey Law Firm in Florida, our attorneys litigate personal injury and wrongful death cases aggressively to win the maximum compensation possible for our clients. We make a concerted effort to gather every piece of evidence necessary to prove the elements of the case.
Four key elements involved in wrongful death
As with personal injury cases, there are four basic elements a wrongful death plaintiff must prove:
- Duty — The alleged wrongdoer in a wrongful death claim must have had a duty to act with reasonable care to avoid harming the deceased.
- Breach — Once the plaintiff establishes that a duty existed, he must show the defendant breached that duty by acting carelessly, recklessly or deliberately to harm the deceased. In most cases, the breach of duty is referred to as negligence.
- Causation — There must be a direct connection between the breach of duty and harm to the deceased, as well as a direct connection between the harm to the deceased and his death.
- Damages — Finally, the plaintiff must prove that because of the death, the deceased and the plaintiff suffered losses. A personal representative of the deceased’s estate may recover for losses to the estate, such as loss of earnings over the course of a normal lifetime as well as medical and funeral expenses.
To prevail in court, a plaintiff must prove each of these elements by “a preponderance of the evidence,” a standard which means the plaintiff’s assertion is more likely true than not.
Common events leading to wrongful death claims
Proof of elements is fact-specific and often depends on the nature of the case. Common scenarios where wrongful death occurs include:
- Motor vehicle accidents — Motorists have a duty to drive safely and observe the rules of the road. The duty extends to other motorists, passengers, pedestrians, motorcyclists, bicyclists, and anyone else they might encounter while behind the wheel. Motorists also have a duty to render aid following a car accident.
- Boating accidents — Boat operators have the same duty as motorists to operate safely and within the law to avoid boat accidents. But, because of the danger inherent in being out on open water, there is a stricter duty to render aid.
- Medical malpractice — Doctors and other healthcare providers have a duty of care toward their patients and must perform at an accepted professional level. Causation is often a tricky element in malpractice cases, because a direct link between the doctor’s mistake and the patient’s adverse outcome is not always easy to establish.
- Premises liability — Landlords have a duty of reasonable care toward visitors to their property, but very little duty to make their property safe for trespassers. Property owners have a duty of care towards child trespassers, especially if the property contains an “attractive nuisance” that might draw the children onto the property at risk of a premises liability accident.
- Products liability — Most products liability cases are decided on a strict liability standard, so a plaintiff need not prove duty or breach. The mere existence of a dangerous defect in the product that caused harm is sufficient.
- Workplace accidents — Workers’ compensation cases do not require proof of duty or breach. But if, for example, the injured worker is suing a third party following a construction accident, a showing of negligence is required.
- Criminal acts — When it’s alleged that a violent crime has caused a person’s death, the criminal trial generally precedes the civil trial. If the criminal trial results in a conviction, the elements for the civil trial are res judicata, “already adjudicated,” because they’ve been proven “beyond a reasonable doubt.” But if the criminal trial ends in acquittal, the civil plaintiff can still prevail by proving the elements by a preponderance of the evidence because that is a lower standard.
Proving the elements of a wrongful death case is rarely easy, even when the case seems straightforward. Defense lawyers for large insurance companies are determined to minimize any payout. To get justice for your loved one and to obtain the maximum compensation possible, you need an experienced wrongful death attorney helping you each step of the way.
Call an experienced wrongful death lawyer in Central Florida for a free consultation
Largey Law Firm provides capable legal representation focused on proving every element of your wrongful death case. To schedule a free consultation with a proven professional who will treat your case with the utmost sensitivity, call 352.508.1485 or contact us online. Our offices are conveniently located in Tavares, Inverness and Clermont. Se habla español.