When you lose someone you love, it’s hard to imagine their death being anything but wrong. Yet, there are cases where death was brought on naturally by health or age-related problems.
Though they’re just as devastating, these are not wrongful deaths. Unless the health problems came from mistreatment from a doctor or an accident that could have been avoided. What do we mean?
Let’s say your late loved one’s employer didn’t take a safety measure they should have and your loved one perished from their incompetence. You could prove or at least fight to prove that their actions caused a “wrongful death”.
Look at probably the most famous wrongful death case in history. You may know it as a little case about O.J. Simpson. In his federal murder trial – he was acquitted, but he didn’t get off scot-free.
If you take a case like this to a civil and lower court, you can prove wrongful death by the amount of evidence only. That’s what Nicole and her boyfriend’s parents did, and O.J. served time for their wrongful deaths.
Other common wrongful death charges include malpractice, transportation incidents, and any work-related injuries or exposure that could have been prevented.
The Parts of a Wrongful Death Case
Hopefully, the death of your late loved one wasn’t as grisly as the Murder of Nicole Brown-Simpson. But even if it was, there are things your case needs to have before you can pursue damages and a wrongful death charge.
Each wrongful death case needs the following things:
- A death
- Proof of negligence or mal-intent
- Any monetary or emotional trauma following the death
- A representative for the person’s estate
Let’s learn a little bit more about those keywords, mal intent and negligence before we move on.
What is Negligence in a Wrongful Death Case?
Let’s say your loved one worked in a chemical processing plant with dangerous materials. To allow people to work there, the government creates and enforces strict safety procedures and regulations.
It’s up to the employer to make sure these regulations and safety procedures are 1. advertised and understood by employees.
And 2, it’s their job to purchase or put in place any safety materials or equipment to keep employees safe. If they fail to do either one or two, that’s a charge of negligence.
More specifically, negligence means: “a failure to behave with a level of care that someone of ordinary prudence would have exercised under the same circumstances.”
Luckily, it’s easy to prove negligence, if the person responsible is honest and doesn’t try to cover up their mistake. You can document or refer to inspection reports that say precautions weren’t taken. Then you have all the evidence you need (pretty much) to prove your case.
What’s harder to prove is mal-intent, since it’s psychological.
What is Mal-Intent?
If you break the word down, it’s exactly what it says. Mal, meaning bad in French, and intent, meaning the reasons behind the action. If someone had the intention or the want to harm someone, that’s mal-intent.
But how can you prove that? It’s more difficult unless the person leaves clues or documents their feelings. We’re seeing this happen more and more with the intent of social media.
That’s why it’s so important to be careful what you say on any sites. Records can be subpoenaed ad the court can get access to text messages or other documentation.
While this seems like an invasion of privacy, it’s very helpful in proving a wrongful death case. All you need is a collection of testimonies and an admittance of negative feelings towards the deceased.
Now, it’s not always that easy. A seasoned criminal or just a smart person, in general, doesn’t always write “I hate ___ and I’m going to hurt them”. And that makes proving the mal-intent harder.
But not impossible. Getting a good lawyer to help you with the details and the charges of your case can make the impossible seem possible.
Personal injury and wrongful death lawyers are skilled in finding subtle clues or evidence that shows an intention of harm. Like the fact that O.J. Simpson found Nicole sleeping with or at least involved with another man.
That would cause jealousy in anyone, though it caused him to take things many steps further.
Wrongful Death Laws
Now, as it is with any and all legal proceedings, there are guidelines you have to follow when you start a case. Every state varies, but in Arizona, for example, most of the time your case needs to be initiated within two years of the injury or death of your loved one.
Unless the death is caused by or suspected to be caused by medical malpractice. Then the statute of limitations remains open for three years from injury OR one year from when the plaintiff finds evidence that makes them suspect wrongful death.
In the case of both – the law refers to whichever act occurs first. For more information about this specification, you can refer to the Arizona Code of Civil Procedure, Sect. 340.5.
Or you could avoid trudging through the legal and political jargon and hire a lawyer to help you through it. Not only will it save you many headaches, but it gives you a much better chance of winning your case.
Thanks to our friends and contributors from Yearin Law for their insight into wrongful death.