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What Has to Be Proven in a Wrongful Death Case?

Losing a loved one through an accident that wasn’t their fault — like a car crash, fatal workplace injury, or exposure to a hazardous chemical — is one of the worst things that can happen to a family.

Many families experience the trauma of losing their loved ones and are angry at the party that caused the accident. Financial worries are another concern. While no amount of money can make up for the loss of a loved one, a personal injury attorney in Los Angeles can help families with a wrongful death settlement to ease their financial plight.

However, proving a wrongful death claim can be complicated. Generally, a wrongful death claim requires the same burden of proof as a personal injury case and the same legal elements as well.

What Is a Wrongful Death?

Not every death — even one caused by accident — is considered to be a wrongful death under the law. A wrongful death lawsuit is filed by the decedent’s heirs which are generally family members. It can also be filed by a personal representative of the deceased person’s estate. Not all family members qualify to bring a wrongful death case, and such cases must meet specific criteria to be valid.

Main Components of Wrongful Death Cases

Your personal injury attorney in Los Angeles will need to prove four things:

  1. Legal Duty
  2. Negligence
  3. Causation
  4. Damages

We’ll explore each element a little closer.

Legal Duty

Duty of care is a legal responsibility that people have toward each other.  For example, a doctor or nurse owes a duty of care to their patients. A manufacturer of consumer products has a duty toward customers to create safe products. A driver has a legal duty of safety to others on the road. Before showing that the defendant caused a wrongful death you must first show the defendant had a legal duty of care to the decedent. This finding is essential for a personal injury attorney in Los Angeles to proceed with a wrongful death case.


Negligence is a fancy word that basically means someone did something wrong or acted unreasonably. This wrongful or unreasonable conduct is negligence. When a wrongful death lawsuit is brought your lawyer must show that the defendant was negligent. They must prove that the defendant acted unreasonably and thus breached their legal duty of care to the decedent. All types of conduct can be considered negligent. Violating traffic laws like running a red light would certainly be considered negligent conduct. Allowing a dangerous condition on a property can be considered negligent. Other types of negligence may include sloppy oversight on the part of a consumer product manufacturer, disregarding workplace or OSHA safety standards, or distracted driving that causes a vehicle collision. Negligence can also include the failure to act, known as an omission.


The personal injury attorney has to prove that the defendant’s negligence caused the death of their loved one. They’ll gather evidence, including witness statements, CCTV footage, or details about company procedures that focus on safety. A defendant may still be responsible for the wrongful death of a loved one even if they were not the sole cause of the death. There may be a number of factors that lead to a loved one’s death. The defendant’s conduct or omission only needs to be more than a trivial factor in the death for a valid wrongful death claim.


Damages are the money owed to compensate the family in a wrongful death case. These are both economic (quantifiable) and non-economic (impact on the survivors’ lives). Common damages in a wrongful death case include:

  • Medical expenses, including hospitalization before the individual died
  • Burial and funeral costs
  • Loss of income and potential earnings
  • Pain and suffering of the victim before death and the family after the death
  • Loss of love, compassion, society, and affection

Although some of these costs can be quantified, others are harder to put a dollar figure on, which is why families benefit from an experienced wrongful death lawyer.

Common Wrongful Death Causes

Many causes of wrongful death are the same as those classified by personal injury. Each type of wrongful death requires the same four elements to be proven.

The most common causes of wrongful death are:

  • Medical malpractice and birth injuries
  • Vehicle accidents
  • Motorcycle accidents
  • Occupational exposure or hazards
  • Product defects
  • Abuse or neglect in a nursing home or other care facility
  • Premises liability accidents
  • Construction accidents

Although each type of accident has the four elements that determine liability on the part of the defendant, establishing the elements is different for each type of accident.

However, since it’s a civil matter, the burden of proof in a wrongful death case is lower than in a criminal case. While the defendant may face criminal charges — such as the penalty for DUI in a car crash — wrongful death cases are to compensate victims, not punish the guilty party.

Who Is Able to File a Wrongful Death Case?

In California, the only parties that can file a wrongful death suit are the deceased’s:

  • Spouse or domestic partner
  • Children, both biological and adopted
  • Parents
  • Siblings in the absence of any of the above

Technically speaking, the only person who files the wrongful death suit is the deceased’s heirs at law. A decedent’s estate can also file a wrongful death claim through a personal representative of the estate.

Compensation in wrongful death cases can and should be significant. The loss of love and affection from a father, mother, or child is significant. Wrongful death cases often result in large settlements and jury verdicts.

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