If you lost a loved one due to someone else’s carelessness or crime, that party may be financially responsible. While nothing can replace a lost life, a wrongful death lawsuit could give your family justice and financial compensation to pay for expenses such as funeral and burial costs. Before your family can achieve a settlement or verdict in Kansas City, however, you or your wrongful death lawyer must prove four elements.
What Is the Burden of Proof?
During a wrongful death claim, the burden of proof rests with the plaintiff or filing party. The burden of proof in all personal injury and wrongful death cases in Missouri is a preponderance of the evidence. This is less than the burden of proof in a criminal case, which is proof beyond a reasonable doubt. A preponderance of the evidence requires enough evidence to show that the defendant is more likely than not responsible for the victim’s fatal injury. In other words, you or your attorney will need to prove these four elements as true with at least a 50 percent probability.
Duty of Care
A duty of care is an expectation that a person or party will exercise a reasonable amount of care based on what a rational and prudent person would do in a similar situation. For example, if you are bringing a wrongful death case against a driver for a fatal car accident, the driver would have a duty of care to obey traffic laws and operate the vehicle in a way that does not injure others. The duty of care in a wrongful death case will depend on the circumstances and the at-fault party’s (defendant’s) relationship to the deceased person.
Breach of Duty
A breach of duty can refer to any action or omission that falls short of the accepted responsibility of care; any action that a reasonable person would not have committed in the same circumstances. A breach of duty does not have to be intentional for a defendant to be held accountable for a victim’s death. Instead, you can base your claim on negligence. Someone is negligent if he or she is careless and causes harm to another person. This is what separates a civil wrongful death case from a criminal case.
In a civil wrongful death lawsuit, you or your attorney will only have to prove that the defendant is guilty of a breach of the duty of care. Whether this breach was careless or intentional will not matter; either way, the defendant can be held liable for causing the death. In a criminal case against the same defendant for a crime such as homicide, however, the prosecutor will have the burden to prove that the defendant had the intent to commit the crime in question.
There must be evidence that the defendant’s breach of the duty of care was the proximate or main cause of the victim’s final injury. The defendant’s act or failure to act must be a direct and actual cause of the decedent’s death. A common test used to determine causation is the “but for” test. If the victim’s fatal injury would not have occurred but for the defendant’s negligent or wrongful act, the defendant will be found liable for damages.
Damages is the legal term for the losses suffered by the filing party in a wrongful death or personal injury case. To be eligible for financial compensation, a decedent’s surviving loved ones or estate must show proof of compensable damages, or economic and noneconomic losses associated with the death.
Common damages listed in a wrongful death lawsuit are medical bills, funeral and burial costs, lost wages and future earnings, lost inheritance, the decedent’s pain and suffering, the family’s mental anguish, legal fees, and property damage.
Consult With an Attorney Today
An experienced wrongful death attorney in Kansas City can help you meet your burden of proof by preserving and collecting evidence against the defendant on your behalf. Your lawyer can guide your family through the entire legal process, addressing your concerns along the way. For more information about a potential wrongful death lawsuit, contact an attorney in Missouri today.