If you've lost a loved one due to the negligence of another party, both criminal and civil legal action may be taken. Understanding the difference between criminal charges and a wrongful death claim can help you best protect your rights during this difficult time.
Criminal Charges Filed After a Death
After a person's death, law enforcement officials will evaluate the circumstances to determine if any laws were broken. The most common criminal charges related to a wrongful death include:
The defendant is accused of unlawful killing without malice or intent, typically causing a death as the result of reckless or negligent behavior.
The defendant is accused of killing with intent, usually with provocation, but with less blame than murder.
Second Degree Murder
The defendant is accused of the unlawful death of another person with malice and intent, but the death was not premeditated.
First Degree Murder
The most serious murder charge, this accuses the defendant of unlawful death that is intentional and premeditated.
Other criminal charges may be related to the specific circumstances of the death such as a DUI if a pedestrian was killed in a fatal drunk driving accident, underage alcohol possession related to a hazing death, or illegal gun possession related to a firearm accident involving a child.
Someone who is convicted of criminal charges will face fines as well as jail time and/or probation. Prison sentences can run concurrently or consecutively. Concurrent sentences for multiple charges are served at the same time, while consecutive sentences are served back to back.
Filing a Wrongful Death Claim
A wrongful death claim is a civil action filed by family members of the deceased. There are specific rules regarding who has the standing to file a wrongful death claim:
- If the deceased person was married, the spouse must file a wrongful death claim.
- If the deceased person had a child, the adult child or minor child's guardian must file the claim.
- If there is no spouse, child, or parent, the siblings must file the claim.
- If there is no spouse, child, parent, or siblings, the surviving grandparents must file the claim.
A wrongful death claim seeks monetary damages awarded to the family and the estate of the deceased. This includes payment for:
- Medical expenses, if the deceased did not die immediately
- Funeral and burial costs
- Loss of future earnings
- Pain and suffering in the deceased person's final moments
- The family's loss of the care and companionship of their loved one
How Criminal Charges Affect a Wrongful Death Claim
A conviction in a criminal case can be used to support your claim that the defendant is liable for the death of your loved one. However, it is quite possible for someone to be found guilty of a wrongful death even if they are acquitted of criminal charges. The reason is that a wrongful death action has a different standard of proof.
In a civil claim, you must prove liability based on a "preponderance of the evidence." Essentially, this means it is more likely than not that the defendant is liable for the wrongful death.
In a criminal case, the prosecutor must prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. This is the highest burden of proof in the legal system, which is a standard meant to prevent innocent people from being convicted of crimes they did not commit.
The most famous example of the difference between criminal charges and a wrongful death claim is the case of O.J. Simpson. The former football player was found not guilty of murdering his ex-wife and her new boyfriend but was ordered to pay damages in the wrongful death claim that followed the acquittal.
Has Your Loved One Died Due To The Negligence Of Others?
If your loved one died due to someone else's negligence you need to speak with a wrongful death attorney as soon as possible. Please contact us online or call our Alexandria office directly at 318.541.8188 to schedule your free consultation.