Wrongful Death: Meaning and Types

A wrongful death case may be brought about by a variety of different events, including medical negligence, car accidents, toxic torts, manufacturing flaws, or criminal activities. Every state has a different wrongful death statute, along with different requirements and steps for filing a wrongful death claim. There may be instances where specific government agencies are exempt from prosecution for wrongful death lawsuits.

What is the Meaning of Wrongful Death?

When someone is killed as a result of the carelessness or wrongdoing of another person or group, this is known as a "wrongful death." A wrongful death lawsuit is a civil case that is different from any criminal charges, even though there may be a criminal investigation into the fatality. A civil case has a lesser burden of proof than a criminal case for murder or manslaughter.

In other words, when a person or organisation breaches a legal obligation and results in a death, this is referred to as a "wrongful death." When this occurs, some surviving family members or a personal representative from the deceased person's estate may launch a wrongful death claim.

The plaintiff in a wrongful death lawsuit must establish certain elements in order to receive compensation. Plaintiffs need to show −

  • Someone or something acted carelessly or purposefully wrong.

  • Their acts directly contributed to a death.

  • There are losses connected to the demise.

If these criteria are met, the court may grant compensation to the deceased's estate or the remaining family members, or the responsible party or their insurer may make a settlement offer.

Most Common Types of Wrongful Death Cases

Car Accidents

Wrongful death lawsuits resulting from car accidents are frequent, and they're typically brought because another driver was careless. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports that over 36,000 people were killed in car accidents in 2018 alone. This number was affected by a variety of factors, including the fact that roughly one-third of all fatal incidents that year involved drunk driving. The relatives of the victim may be eligible for compensation in a wrongful death case if another party was at fault for the collision.

Medical Malpractice

You anticipate that a doctor will take all reasonable precautions to ensure your health and safety when you trust them to administer therapy or carry out an operation. Regrettably, medical mistakes happen regularly and frequently result in fatalities. According to research in health technology and informatics, around 251,000 deaths occur in the United States each year as a result of medical errors.

Premises Liability

You presume that a person or business has taken the appropriate steps to keep you from getting hurt when you access their property legally. Regrettably, property neglect by a homeowner or company owner frequently results in incidents that cause severe injuries or even death.

When someone is harmed as a result of a property owner's negligence, premises liability law enables the victims and their families to sue the owner of the property. Instances involving premises liability include −

  • Fall and trip

  • Inadequate protection

  • Dog bit

  • Deteriorated stairs or walkways

  • Icy or coated in snow walkways

  • Defects in escalators and elevators

Product Liability

Unfortunately, these days, you can find defective goods almost anywhere. They could be flawed due to bad manufacturing, poor design, flaws in the transportation system, or broken safety features. Because the manufacturer has a responsibility to protect their customers against product malfunctions, this might result in a wrongful death case when these items are defective and end up harming or killing a person. They could include malfunctioning safety shutoffs, dangerous designs that could lead to a child choking or sharp edges that could hurt the operator.

Workplace Accidents

The majority of us have experience working in hazardous conditions, as many small, struggling enterprises with limited resources either fail to provide workers with the necessary safety gear or force them to engage in risky tasks. You simply participate in the activities since you need to pay your expenses and can't be fired as employees attempting to keep their jobs. This frequently causes workplace accidents, which ultimately lead to the failure of business owners when their employees get fatal injuries. Construction workers falling off of houses, buildings, and structural framing while attempting to perform dangerous tasks is one of the most frequent workplace accidents that results in fatalities.

Boating and Drowning Accidents

Both boating and visiting waterparks are enjoyable hobbies, but they also include some inherent risks that most people don't consider before engaging in them. Before setting sail, many boaters or the ship's captain fail to adequately inspect their craft, which can swiftly result in a sinking ship. Boating mishaps are also frequently caused by novice boaters who enter the water without fully comprehending the regulations, such as how to navigate waves safely or which side to pass other boats on. One of the most frequent forms of negligence is drinking and operating a boat, and when it results in harm or death, the legal system takes it quite seriously.

Aviation Accidents

Although they don't happen as frequently as car accidents, aviation mishaps do occur. There are a lot of opportunities for accidents to occur because there are so many planes in the sky, practically constantly. Commercial flights frequently arrive late at their destination; therefore, they may decide to omit some aircraft inspections or even drive the engines too hard in an effort to make up time while in the air. All aviation businesses are subject to tight regulations that cover everything from landing to takeoff to air travel.

Is Wrongful Death Civil or Criminal

Wrongful death lawsuits are civil actions brought by a person or their family against another person, organisation, or business. In order to make up for the loved one's passing and the loss of their income, financial compensation is the goal.

Criminal charges like homicide, murder, or manslaughter are frequently appropriate when a death occurs. When laws are broken, the state files criminal charges. Jail time is one of the possible sanctions.

Criminal prosecutions have a different level of proof than wrongful death cases do. The components of a crime must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt by the prosecutor. But, in a civil action, such as one involving wrongful death, the plaintiff must establish their claim through a preponderance of the evidence.

Components of Wrongful Death

The following components need to be present for a wrongful death claim to succeed −

  • The passing away of a person

  • The fatality was brought about by someone else's carelessness or malicious intent.

  • The continuation of family members who are financially harmed by the deceased's passing

  • The selection of a personal representative to handle the estate of the deceased

A number of events can give rise to a wrongful death claim, including the ones listed below −

  • Medical error that caused the decedent's death

  • A car or an airplane crash

  • Exposure to risky situations or chemicals at work

  • Criminal activity

  • Death occurring during a controlled activity


By their very nature, wrongful death cases typically entail horrific events. Although the majority of grieving family members do not want to consider the legal repercussions, it is always important to get knowledgeable legal advice as soon as possible to ensure that rights are not waived.


Q1. Is wrongful death negligence or strict liability?

Ans. The basis for a wrongful death case is negligence. Only members of the deceased person's family are eligible to file the lawsuit. The definition of a family member varies from state to state, but often it includes parents, spouses, and children.

Q2. Is wrongful death a survival action?

Ans. A wrongful death action is a demand for compensation for the injuries incurred by the deceased's relatives, whereas a survival action is a lawsuit that the deceased could have brought had he or she lived. The distinctions between the two litigation categories must be understood.

Q3. Can you file both wrongful death and survival action?

Ans. You may be entitled to file a wrongful death claim and a survival action against the person at fault if you lost a family member in a terrible accident in order to get the compensation you are due for your losses.

Q4. Who is liable for wrongful death?

Ans. The family members or survivors of the deceased person may file a wrongful death lawsuit if the death was caused by the wrongdoing or negligence of another. For the losses of the survivors, recompense is sought in this kind of case. Loss of companionship, missed pay, and burial costs are just a few examples of the several kinds of losses that can occur.

Updated on: 11-Apr-2023


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