Is a Wrongful Death Lawsuit Civil or Criminal?

A wrongful death lawsuit is a legal action taken by the surviving family members of an individual who has died as a result of someone else’s negligent or intentional actions. It seeks to hold the responsible party accountable for their actions and provides compensation for the financial and emotional losses incurred by the family. Wrongful death lawsuits are civil lawsuits, but may have criminal repercussions.

Understanding Wrongful Death Lawsuits

In order to understand the classification of a wrongful death lawsuit, it is important to first grasp the concept of wrongful death itself. Wrongful death is legally defined as the death of a person caused by the negligence, recklessness, or intentional actions of another individual or entity. It is a tragic event that not only affects the victim but also has a profound impact on their surviving family members.

When a loved one’s life is abruptly taken away due to the actions or inactions of someone else, the pain and grief experienced by the family can be overwhelming. The sudden loss of a family member can leave a void that can never be filled. It is during these difficult times that the legal concept of wrongful death comes into play.

Definition of Wrongful Death

Wrongful death occurs when a person’s life is taken due to the negligence, recklessness, or intentional actions of another individual or entity. This legal concept recognizes that certain actions or failures to act can result in the loss of a life, and those responsible should be held accountable.

Wrongful death cases can arise from various situations, each with its own unique set of circumstances. Car accidents caused by drunk driving, for example, can lead to the loss of innocent lives due to the irresponsible behavior of another driver. Medical malpractice cases can also result in wrongful death when healthcare professionals fail to provide the appropriate standard of care, leading to fatal consequences.

Workplace accidents are another common cause of wrongful death. When employers fail to provide a safe working environment or adequate training, employees can be put at risk, and fatal accidents can occur. Additionally, criminal acts such as assault or murder can also lead to wrongful death claims.

Common Causes of Wrongful Death

There are numerous causes of wrongful death, and each case can be unique. Car accidents caused by drunk driving are a leading cause of wrongful death. The devastating impact of a drunk driver’s actions can result in the loss of innocent lives and leave families devastated and seeking justice.

Medical errors are another significant cause of wrongful death. When healthcare professionals make mistakes in diagnosis, treatment, or surgical procedures, the consequences can be fatal. These cases often require a thorough investigation to determine negligence and hold the responsible parties accountable.

Product defect accidents can also result in wrongful death claims. When a defective product causes harm and leads to the loss of a life, the manufacturer, distributor, or retailer may be held liable for the tragic outcome.

In some cases, wrongful death can be the result of criminal acts such as assault or murder. These cases not only involve the pursuit of justice through criminal proceedings but also allow the surviving family members to seek compensation through civil wrongful death lawsuits.

It is important to note that each wrongful death case is unique and requires a thorough investigation to determine liability and establish the cause of death. The legal process can be complex, and it is crucial to seek the guidance of experienced wrongful death attorneys who can navigate the intricacies of the law and fight for justice on behalf of the grieving families.

The Difference Between Civil and Criminal Law

Is a Wrongful Death Lawsuit Civil or Criminal?

Before delving into the classification of wrongful death lawsuits, it is important to differentiate between civil law and criminal law. These two branches of law address different types of offenses and have distinct procedures and consequences.

Key Features of Civil Law

Civil law deals with private disputes between individuals or entities. It focuses on resolving conflicts and providing compensation or remedies for harm caused by one party to another. In civil law, the primary objective is to restore the injured party to their original position or compensate them for their losses.

When a civil lawsuit is filed, it is typically initiated by the affected party, known as the plaintiff. The plaintiff seeks to recover damages or seek an injunction to prevent further harm. Civil law cases can cover a wide range of issues, including contract disputes, property disputes, personal injury claims, and family law matters such as divorce or child custody.

In civil law, the burden of proof is generally lower than in criminal law. The plaintiff must prove their case by a preponderance of the evidence, which means that it is more likely than not that their version of events is true. This standard allows for a greater emphasis on resolving disputes and finding a fair resolution for all parties involved.

Key Features of Criminal Law

Criminal law, on the other hand, deals with offenses committed against society as a whole. It addresses acts that violate established laws and seeks to punish the offender through fines, probation, or imprisonment. The primary objective of criminal law is to maintain social order and protect the public by holding individuals accountable for their actions.

Unlike civil cases, criminal cases are filed by the government or the state. The prosecution, representing the government, brings charges against the accused, who is known as the defendant. In criminal law, the burden of proof lies with the prosecution to establish guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

Criminal law covers a wide range of offenses, from minor misdemeanors to serious felonies. Examples of criminal offenses include theft, assault, murder, drug trafficking, and fraud. The severity of the punishment depends on the nature and severity of the crime committed.

In criminal law, the focus is not only on punishment but also on rehabilitation and deterrence. The goal is to prevent future criminal behavior and protect society from potential harm. Criminal cases often involve complex legal procedures, including the gathering of evidence, witness testimonies, and the presentation of arguments in court.

Civil law and criminal law are distinct branches of the legal system that serve different purposes. Civil law focuses on resolving private disputes and providing compensation or remedies to the injured party, while criminal law addresses offenses committed against society and seeks to punish the offender. Understanding the differences between these two branches is essential for navigating the legal system and ensuring justice is served.

Classifying Wrongful Death Lawsuits: Civil or Criminal?

Is a Wrongful Death Lawsuit Civil or Criminal?

Wrongful death lawsuits are civil lawsuits, in that the wrongful death lawyer is attempting to obtain financial compensation for the victim’s next-of-kin. Criminal prosecutors will sometimes take evidence and testimony from the wrongful death lawsuit and pursue criminal charges against the responsible parties, but that is outside of the wrongful death attorney’s control.

Factors Determining the Classification

The classification of a wrongful death lawsuit depends on several factors, including the intent of the responsible party, the nature of their actions, and the available evidence. If the death was caused by negligence, the lawsuit is typically filed as a civil case. However, if the responsible party’s actions were intentional or involved criminal wrongdoing, the case may be treated as a criminal matter.

When determining intent, the court carefully examines the actions of the responsible party leading up to the death. This analysis involves assessing whether the responsible party had a duty of care towards the deceased and whether they breached that duty. Additionally, the court considers whether the responsible party’s actions were reckless, willful, or malicious. These factors play a crucial role in determining whether the case falls under civil or criminal jurisdiction.

Furthermore, the nature of the responsible party’s actions is another crucial factor in classification. If the death resulted from a negligent act, such as a car accident caused by distracted driving, it is more likely to be classified as a civil case. On the other hand, if the responsible party engaged in deliberate misconduct, such as assault or murder, the case may be treated as a criminal matter.

Lastly, the available evidence plays a significant role in determining the classification of a wrongful death lawsuit. The court carefully reviews all evidence, including witness testimonies, expert opinions, and any documented proof of the responsible party’s actions. The strength and credibility of the evidence can influence whether the case is pursued as a civil or criminal matter.

Consequences in the Criminal and Civil Context

A wrongful death lawsuit as significant implications for both the responsible party and the surviving family. In civil cases, the primary goal is to seek monetary compensation for the damages incurred by the family, including medical expenses, funeral costs, loss of income, and emotional suffering. The court aims to provide some form of justice by holding the responsible party financially accountable for their actions.

On the other hand, criminal cases focus on punishment and deterrence. If the responsible party is found guilty of a criminal offense related to the wrongful death, they may face severe consequences. These consequences can include fines, probation, or even imprisonment, depending on the severity of their actions and the applicable laws in the jurisdiction.

The Process of Filing a Wrongful Death Lawsuit

If you find yourself in the unfortunate position of needing to file a wrongful death lawsuit, it is crucial to understand the steps involved in the process. While each case is unique, there are general guidelines that can help you navigate this challenging situation.

Steps to Take Following a Wrongful Death

After the loss of a loved one, it is important to take immediate action to protect your rights. Here are some crucial steps to consider:

  1. Consult with an attorney specializing in wrongful death cases.
  2. Gather all relevant documents, including medical records, accident reports, and witness statements.
  3. Notify the responsible party’s insurance company of your intent to file a claim.
  4. File the necessary legal documents within the statute of limitations.

The Role of a Wrongful Death Attorney

A wrongful death attorney plays a crucial role in guiding you through the legal process and advocating for your rights. They will investigate the circumstances surrounding the death, gather evidence, negotiate with insurance companies, and represent you in court if necessary. Their expertise and support can significantly increase your chances of a successful outcome.

Get Your Free
Case Evaluation Today!

Contact Information


Verdict Report

$3.025 Million settlement by Mark R. Melrose and co-counsel in a medical malpractice case for 40 year old man who suffered a devastating stroke after his surgeon failed to diagnose the cause of his bowel infarction. The doctor failed to read the echocardiogram which had clear evidence of a blood clot. This clot then broke apart and caused the stroke.

Review Us