Wrongful death claims are incredibly challenging, particularly because these claims revolve around the loss of life and the compensation of family members. It is important for attorneys of the family members and the estate of the deceased to prove negligence in order for the claim to be successful. Here, we want to break down the four elements of negligence and how attorneys prove them.
The first step in proving negligence for a wrongful death claim is establishing that there was a duty of care between the deceased and the defendant. The duty of care will look different depending on the type of incident involved in the death. For example, all drivers on the roadway have a duty to operate their vehicles safely. If the incident involves a vehicle accident, we can assume that there was a duty of care agreed to by all drivers on the roadway.
However, determining a duty of care may be more challenging in some situations. For example, for a slip and fall incident that occurs in a parking lot, there may be various parties who could be held liable. This could include the store owner, a different property owner that controls the parking lot, third-party maintenance companies, and more. An investigation will need to be conducted in two which party or parties have a duty of care for a wrongful death claim.
After establishing that a duty of care existed between the deceased and the defendant, it needs to be shown that the defendant breached their duty of care in some way. Again, this will look different depending on the type of incident involved in the wrongful death case. For example, there are various ways for drivers to breach their duty of care on the roadway. This can include operating while impaired by alcohol or drugs, distracted by phones or other devices, or speeding.
If the wrongful death claim revolves around a medical mistake, establishing a breach of duty will involve enlisting assistance from medical professionals who can examine the facts of the case and determine whether or not an error was made.
Proving that a breach of duty occurred typically requires an extensive investigation and possibly even enlisting assistance from various reconstruction experts to determine exactly what happened. Enough evidence has to be gathered to show that the defendant more than likely caused the death.
Even after proving that a breach of duty occurred, an attorney will need to show that the breach directly led to the wrongful death. For example, just because a person is operating their vehicle illegally while impaired by alcohol does not necessarily mean that they were responsible for the wrongful death. In some cases, an impaired person just ends up being part of an accident caused by someone else.
Proving causation after establishing a breach of duty is not horribly difficult, but it must be clear that the breach caused the death.
The final step for a wrongful death claim is proving the losses sustained by the estate and family members. There are various ways that attorneys will prove damages, and this involves gathering bills and receipts from the estate and the family as well as working with trusted medical and financial experts. Often, these claims involve calculating the total expected income lost as a result of the death. There will be a need to predict what a person likely would have earned over the remainder of their lifetime, had they lived.