Civil Suits and Criminal Charges for Wrongful Death. Today’s guest blog is by Cohen and Cohen P.C. The opinions expressed by the author in this and all guest blogs are not necessarily those of The Attorneys For Freedom Law Firm.
Today’s guest blog by Cohen and Cohen P.C.
Wrongful death cases are a unique example of how a single event may warrant two legal actions: one claim in civil court, and another case in criminal court. Civil claimed are filed by individuals who have been harmed by another party’s negligence or intentional act. These claims do not result in criminal sentencing; instead, if a claimant wins their case, they may be awarded financial compensation for their losses.
For a wrongful death case, the civil suit may be filed by the deceased’s estate or by surviving relatives. These individuals may receive damages to compensate them for tangible financial losses as well as intangible pain and suffering. Tangible losses may include outstanding medical bills, funeral costs, and loss of future income. Intangible losses may be awarded through punitive damages, which are often intended to justify the family’s pain and suffering.
Criminal charges, on the other hand, are brought by a prosecutor on behalf of the state or federal government. These charges may result in fines, imprisonment, probation, and other penalties. Financial restitution might also be ordered in a criminal case, but it is generally advisable to pursue a separate civil suit in the event of a wrongful death incident.
The Burden of Proof
Another key difference between these two legal avenues is the burden of proof required. The prosecuting attorney in a criminal case must prove that the defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in order to get a conviction. This is a constitutional requirement and it’s the highest standard of proof in a U.S. courtroom. If the jury in a criminal case has any reason to doubt the defendant’s guilt, the defendant may be exonerated from a criminal conviction.
The burden of proof in a wrongful death action is much lower. The plaintiff, or claimant, in a civil suit, must prove their case by a preponderance of the evidence. A civil court judge may rule in favor of a plaintiff if it’s more probable than not that the defendant is at fault. In cases where a criminal court jury found a defendant not guilty of criminal charges, a personal injury lawyer DC trusts may still be able to win a civil case for their client in a wrongful death claim.
In most lawsuits, whether civil or criminal, some degree of intent must be proven as an element of the crime or tort. In most criminal cases, the prosecutor must prove that the defendant’s actions were intentional or negligent. For example, to convict a person of murder, the state must prove that the person had malice aforethought or that the act was planned, even if the planning occurred just moments before the trigger was pulled.
In a civil lawsuit for wrongful death, the plaintiff may only need to prove that the defendant was negligent and that his or her negligence caused the death. If a defendant is convicted of murder, that conviction is a finding of intentional conduct that satisfies and exceeds the requirement for a wrongful death lawsuit. On the other hand, if a defendant is acquitted of murder, the victim’s estate or survivors can still bring a lawsuit for wrongful death, if they can prove that the defendant’s negligence resulted in the death.
Civil Suits and Criminal Charges for Wrongful Death
For more information, please contact a criminal defense or personal injury lawyer who can help you understand how the law applies in your case.
Thanks to our friend and contributors from Cohen & Cohen, P.C. for their insight into wrongful death cases.