New Mexico residents familiar with the murder trial of O.J. Simpson might wonder why the celebrity was found liable in a civil trial after being deemed not guilty in the criminal case. The standard of proof is typically lower in a civil case, which can allow an individual to face consequences, such as a financial judgement in spite of escaping criminal penalties. A criminal case is not necessary for a civil action to occur, but a successful criminal case may signal that civil action could be successful.
Each state has its own wrongful death standards, but there are some common elements needed for a lawsuit to be brought. A human death caused intentionally or through negligence of another party is necessary. Such a death must result in one or more surviving family members dealing with financial loss in order for a lawsuit to be plausible. An individual bringing suit on behalf of these family members must be appointed to represent the estate of the deceased party. In a successful civil case, damages awarded might cover issues such as expenses incurred because of the death, loss of income and services previously provided by the decedent, and the possible loss of inheritance that might have been available if the individual had lived.
Wrongful death scenarios can be diverse, ranging from accidents to criminal actions. Some can be governed by areas such as employment law based on a negligent act occurring on the job. Others can involve malpractice laws based on the catalyst for death being the action or inaction of a medical entity or individual.
Working with a lawyer who has experience in the area of wrongful death can be important in determining whether the elements needed for filing a civil claim are present. A lawyer might assist in guiding a client to ensure that the decedent’s estate is properly represented. A lawyer might also identify whether there are potential defendants that have not been identified.