What do I need to prove for a wrongful death claim?
Bringing a wrongful death suit is not an easy task. The process can easily take months if not years, cause . It’s something no one ever wants to go through. Still, filing a suit when your family member or loved one was killed by the wrongful actions of another party is an important right that should be exercised. It is our tool for holding people accountable for being dangerously reckless or careless, and it provides a way for you to receive damages for the impact those reckless actions have had on you and your family.
Combs Law Group has helped people from all over St. Louis file wrongful death lawsuits and promises to be a trusted partner in your wrongful death case. You can call us at (314) 480-3100 any time to discuss your case and ask us questions, free of charge. We never charge for our services until we get you the settlement that is fair.
Proving a Wrongful Death Claim
For Missouri courts to consider that an accident or event officially resulted in a wrongful death, certain facts must apply. Negligence or a breach of duty had to occur, and they also must have in some way caused the death and led to damages.
- Negligence: The family member who is bringing the wrongful death claim must be able to show that it was the negligence of the defendant-i.e. the party they are bringing the case against-that caused the victim’s death. Negligence is defined several ways, such as recklessness, carelessness, irresponsibility, or inattentiveness. These negligent actions could have been the direct, sole cause of death, a partial cause, or a major contributing factor in the accident.
- Breach of Duty: Breach of duty involves two parts in proving your wrongful death claim. First, you must establish that the defendant owed a duty of care to the deceased. Medical professionals have a duty to treat their patients to the best of their ability. However, individuals and organizations also owe a duty of care to other people in many other situations. For example, a driver has the duty to keep all other people on the road, including passengers, roadworkers, pedestrians, cyclists, and anyone else using public streets safe by driving responsibly and following all traffic laws. In addition, to support your wrongful death claim, you must prove that the defending party not only owed you a duty of care, but also breached this duty through their actions.
- Causation: After negligence, duty of care, and breach of duty have been proven, the person filing the wrongful death suit must prove that the defendant’s negligence caused the death of the victim. It is not enough to prove that a driver ran a stop sign: you must show how the action of running a stop sign is what ended the life of a loved one.
- Damages: Finally, you need to prove to the court that these negligent actions that caused the death of your loved one resulted in damages. This is where you, as the surviving family member or court-approved representative, show how you were affected by the defendant’s actions. Wrongful death damages can include expenses like funeral and end-of-life costs and medical bills, loss of income like the decedent’s future wages and benefits, and nonmonetary damages like loss of companionship and pain and suffering.
The Burden of Proof
A wrongful death suit is a civil case, rather than a criminal case (although in a number of situations, a defendant will also be facing criminal charges for their actions, as well). Missouri has its own rules on evidence and proof, as does every other US state or territory. For any case in the American court system, either civil or criminal, the plaintiff must prove that the defendant is guilty: this is why it is always said that defendants are innocent until proven guilty.
However, in civil cases such as a wrongful death case, the burden of proof is not as high as it is in a criminal case. To prove a defendant guilty in criminal court, the plaintiff has to prove that they are guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. In civil court, you simply need to establish a “preponderance of the evidence.” This means that, as a plaintiff, you need to furnish enough evidence to show that the defendant more likely than not caused the wrongful death of your loved one.
Quality is usually considered more important than quantity when it comes to determining what evidence you bring. It is not about how much or how many individual pieces of evidence you present, but how well the evidence that you bring forward demonstrates your claim that the defendant’s actions were responsible for the victim’s death.
Evidence can take many different forms. In some cases, you and your attorney may need to think outside the box to produce convincing evidence that proves your case. Some common sources of evidence are:
- Medical bills, records, and documents
- Police reports
- Written or recorded communication between insurance companies and investigating parties
- Insurance Explanation of Benefits forms
- Photographs and video of vehicle or other property damage
- Photographs of injuries and medical treatments and devices
- Text messages
- Phone records and cell phone bills
- Social media posts and messages
Not all wrongful death cases go to trial. If the defendant acts in good faith and agrees to a fair and just settlement for the damages you and your family have sustained, the case will not see the inside of a courtroom. Your lawyer will show the defense team the strength of your case through statements, letters, and other communications. These may be enough to get other parties to agree to a reasonable settlement. However, if they do not cooperate, the case may have to go to trial and be heard in front of a judge and jury. The trial phase is where you will have to present your evidence and meet the burden of proof.
Contact A St. Louis Wrongful Death Lawyer
When facing the loss of a loved one, collecting evidence and proving your case should be the last thing you need to think about. It’s important to have a lawyer who is skilled and experienced, as well as compassionate and understanding, to help you with your wrongful death case. The attorneys at Combs Law Group understand your unique needs as a family grieving a loved one as well as the legal circumstances of your case. Our firm supports our St. Louis wrongful death lawsuit clients from the moment they first contact us through to when you get the result you want, whether it’s a settlement or a jury award. We are ready to speak with you today, either by calling (314) 900-HELP or by sending us a message online.