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What is wrongful death?

Wrongful death is a term used in legal situations when surviving family members sue someone they believe caused the death of a loved one. Wrongful death suits often follow after criminal proceedings involving a death, but they can also be purely civil matters when someone believes a death was caused by the negligence of another. Some civil wrongful death suits might occur after someone dies during a medical procedure, car accident or fall on someone's premises.

Regardless of the specifics of each wrongful death case, some common components are usually required for a case to be successful. First, and obviously, a death must have occurred as a result of some accident or action. The plaintiff must then be able to make a case that the accident or action was caused by someone's intent or negligence.

In addition to intent or negligence, the plaintiff must also make a case that financial loss occurred because of the death. Some types of loss that might be compensated through a wrongful death suit could include funeral or medical expenses and loss of support or wages. Sometimes, nonmonetary losses are sought, including loss of consortium or companionship as well as pain and suffering.

In cases that go to court, a jury determines whether an award will be paid and provides an initial amount for that award. However, a court might adjust a jury award if it is not in keeping with certain facts and estimates in a case, such as the amount a decedent was likely to earn or how he or she routinely supported family members prior to death. Understanding how to present facts to both the jury and the court to increase the likelihood of fair compensation is just one important aspect of a wrongful death lawsuit.

Source: FindLaw, "Wrongful Death Overview," accessed Aug. 07, 2015

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