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Paul M. D'Amore
Paul M. D'Amore

Founding Member, Trial Lawyer

What are the key elements in a wrongful death case?

The first step is contacting experienced attorneys to explore your options. Here's what you should know about wrongful death suits, including the necessary criteria for a successful outcome.

Few things are more life-altering than the unexpected death of a loved one. Whether it's the result of a motor vehicle accident, medical malpractice, or a deadly mishap on the job, survivors often find their entire worlds turned upside down. Not only are you having to adjust on an emotional level to the reality of life without your loved one, but you may also be facing financial difficulties if the deceased was a wage-earner or otherwise contributed to the family finances. 

Fortunately, you may be able to recover financial damages due to the death of your loved one. However, not all deaths qualify for this type of lawsuit. It is essential that certain criteria be met before the court will consider awarding financial damages to survivors.

Negligence

In wrongful death cases, negligence is defined as the failure to do what is reasonable in the circumstances. In a motor vehicle case, it can be as simple as not paying attention while driving and causing a fatality by running a stop sign, speeding, or otherwise disobeying traffic laws. In the context of a medical injury, negligence is when a doctor or other healthcare provider fails to do what a reasonable provider would have done in the same or similar circumstances. Examples include failing to diagnose a patient’s condition (such as cancer), misreading lab results or radiology studies, surgical mistakes, and failing to properly inform patients of the potential risks of surgical procedures and/or medications. If an act of negligence causes the person’s death, then a wrongful death action may be appropriate. 

It's important to note that while the majority of states use a comparative negligence standard, Maryland is one of the few states that still uses contributory negligence. Under this rule, if the deceased person was negligent, and that negligence contributed to the death, then the plaintiff will be barred from obtaining any recovery.

Breach of Duty

Before breach of duty can be established in a wrongful death claim, it must be proven that the defendant had a duty toward the deceased. For example, if the death was the result of a motor vehicle accident, the driver of the other vehicle had a duty to follow traffic laws, remain within the speed limit, and otherwise practice safe driving. In the case of wrongful death suits brought against health care providers, those providers have a duty to their patients to provide reasonable medical care. A breach of this duty is considered medical negligence. A breach of duty can be either accidental or committed with the intent to cause harm.

Causation


To successfully bring a wrongful death lawsuit, you must be able to prove that the negligence or breach of duty caused the person’s death, or was a significant contributing factor in the death. For instance, if a physician prescribes the wrong medication but the patient dies from unrelated causes, it would not be possible to successfully sue the doctor for wrongful death.

Why Medication Errors Occur

The fourth element in a wrongful death case is damages, which are separated into two broad categories: 1) Economic; and 2) Non-economic. 

Economic damages: These include such things as the cost of medical bills and funeral expenses. If the deceased person was working and supporting a spouse or children, economic damages could also include future income that the deceased person is no longer able to earn, as well as the cost of household services that the deceased person is no longer able to perform.  

Non-economic damages: These include the value of any pain and suffering that the deceased person experienced, as well as the grief and emotional loss of those family members left behind. These amounts are usually capped by law. Your attorney can further explain your options when it comes to collecting financial damages for pain and suffering associated with the wrongful death of a loved one.


Proving Wrongful Death

In a medical case, expert witnesses are required to prove a wrongful death case. In order to prevail, the plaintiff must present medical experts to testify that the doctor or other healthcare provider was negligent, and that such negligence caused the patient’s death. In a motor vehicle case, the plaintiff will usually call medical experts to testify that the car accident caused the deceased person’s death.

The Burden of Proof in Wrongful Death Cases


A wrongful death case is a civil action, as opposed to a criminal action. In criminal cases, the burden of proof is that the State must prove the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. In a civil case, however, the standard is far lower. A plaintiff must prove his or her case by a preponderance of the evidence, which means that something is more likely to have occurred than not to have occurred.


Steps Involved in Filing a Wrongful Death Suit


Collecting evidence is the first step in any type of legal proceeding, including wrongful death cases. The beginning stages also involve talking with witnesses and lining up potential experts to testify if the case goes to trial.

The next step is to reach out to the other party and make an attempt at settlement. The other party's insurance company may offer a settlement at this time, and your attorney will negotiate on your behalf.

If an agreement can't be reached during this phase, the next step is to formally file the lawsuit and prepare to go to court.

Contact D'Amore Personal Injury Law for more Information

Wrongful death suits are complex and often confusing, which is why you need a skilled attorney on your side. Contact D'Amore Personal Injury Law, LLC to schedule a free consultation. We'll only collect a fee from you if we win your case.

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