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What is a Wrongful Death Statute?

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  • Written By: G. Wiesen
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 20 October 2017
  • Copyright Protected:
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    Conjecture Corporation
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A wrongful death statute is a law that indicates the requirements, penalties, limitations, and other legal aspects governing the availability of wrongful death actions between one party and another. These statutes will vary from region to region and may be established by the government of a particular country, province, or state depending on the laws of the region. In the United States (US), for example, wrongful death statutes are established by state legislatures and can vary in certain ways from one state to another.

The details provided by a wrongful death statute will typically entail the ways in which wrongful death can be established and who can bring the action against someone else. Wrongful death is a term used in describing civil cases, rather than criminal murder or homicide cases. Prior to the establishment of a wrongful death statute in the United Kingdom and regions within the US, killing someone was typically viewed as being less expensive than simply injuring a person. This was because a person who had been killed could not bring a legal action against the killer for financial damages based on the death.

A wrongful death statute allows the surviving family members of someone who has been killed, usually restricted to next of kin or a spouse, to pursue civil action against the killer for damages. These damages usually fall into two categories: loss to the estate and loss to the survivors. Loss to the estate is money that is lost due to the untimely death of the person; this can include potential earnings if the person had continued to live, burial expenses and other similar costs. A wrongful death statute will usually indicate a maximum amount that may be awarded or similarly govern how losses to the estate can be calculated.

Damages based on loss to the survivors are calculated based on the financial support and assistance the person would have continued making if he or she had still been living. This can include potential gifts that would have been offered by the victim, wages owed to employees of the deceased, and financial household contributions that a person may have made if he or she had not been killed. Punitive damages can be awarded in certain situations, but most states and countries with a wrongful death statute do not allow punitive damages except in certain extreme situations.

As a civil case in the US, wrongful death actions are not held to the requirements that criminal cases are tried by. In criminal cases, guilt must be proven "beyond a reasonable doubt," while in civil cases liability is proven through a “preponderance of the evidence.” This means that in a wrongful death action, a person needs to only be proven liable by more than 50% of the evidence, allowing someone to be found criminally not guilty, but still civilly liable.

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