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Wrongful Death vs. Murder Cases

This content about wrongful death settlements was written by a third party and does not represent the views or opinions of Haddad & Sherwin LLP, nor should it be construed as a complete and accurate statement of the law or as legal advice. For better information about this topic, please contact Haddad & Sherwin LLP.

If a loved one has died as a result of the actions of another, it is paramount that you understand the difference between murder and wrongful death cases. This will allow you to know what your legal options are and what the best course of action is for you and your family.

One of the main differences between these types of suits is that a wrongful death lawsuit is a civil action whereas a murder lawsuit is a criminal case. Furthermore, intent is another distinguishing element. Murder lawsuits are determined by criminal intent.

Meanwhile, wrongful death can result from intent but also from negligent acts or accidents. This means that while murder is a type of wrongful death, the reverse is not always true.

Whichever the case, you might find the following information useful when deciding how to legally proceed.

Who can file these types of lawsuits?

According to the California Code of Civil Procedure 377.60, family members or personal representatives are able to file a wrongful death lawsuit. If you are a spouse or domestic partner, child, grandchild, or other minor (such as a stepchild) who was dependent on the decedent, you have the right to file a lawsuit.

If there are no surviving spouses or children, the law includes any person who would be entitled to the decedent’s property in accordance with intestate succession laws in California, such as surviving parents or siblings.

In contrast, a criminal case –such as a murder case– is prosecuted by the state since the crime is considered an offense to society as a whole. This means that a prosecutor, acting as a representative of the state, files these types of cases in court.

Difference in the burden of proof

Since a wrongful death lawsuit is a civil action, the standards of proof are much lower than in criminal cases.

For instance, a wrongful death case does not require that the wrongful death be proven beyond a reasonable doubt, but rather that the defendant be found responsible for the victim’s death by a “preponderance of the evidence.” This means that the defendant more likely than not (there at least a 51% probability) committed the allegations in the complaint.

On the other hand, criminal cases require that the prosecutor establish that the defendant committed the crime “beyond a reasonable doubt.” This means that the facts offer no other logical explanation than that the defendant committed the crime.

Damages vs. punishment

Another difference is that the remedy that is available to surviving members who file a wrongful death lawsuit is monetary compensation rather than the punishment of the liable party.

In other words, the defendant in a wrongful death lawsuit will not face incarceration unless a criminal charge is filed, but they must pay the family or estate if found guilty. It is also true that while an individual can be punished with incarceration or death for a criminal case, they are not required to pay damages.

Seeking help for a wrongful death lawsuit

A California wrongful death lawsuit requires expert analysis and a skilled attorney who knows how to preserve your legal rights and meet the necessary burden of proof for a successful case. Remember that statute of limitations for these cases is two years, so make sure to seek help as soon as possible.

Haddad & Sherwin LLP has a long, successful track record winning wrongful death and other serious civil rights claims for police and jail officer misconduct, throughout Northern and Central California.  Call or email us for a free consultation.

This content was written by a third party and does not represent the views or opinions of Haddad & Sherwin LLP, nor should it be construed as a complete and accurate statement of the law or as legal advice.  For better information about this topic, please contact Haddad & Sherwin LLP.