What is a Wrongful Death Complaint?

Lori Smith
Lori Smith
Wrongful death damages may help pay for funeral expenses.
Wrongful death damages may help pay for funeral expenses.

A wrongful death complaint is the first stage of a lawsuit that is filed against someone accused of causing the death of another person. The fatality is usually the result of the negligence or carelessness of the person being sued. Sometimes, a wrongful death complaint is filed to take legal action against a business, hospital, nursing home, or other establishment that caused the illness or injury that ultimately resulted in death.

Personal injury attorneys usually file the legal complaint at the request of a family member who has suffered financial loss and pain and suffering due to the negligent act. It is a civil tort action, and not criminal. In other words, if the defendant is found guilty of negligence, the punishment would be monetary.

Anyone who suffers a financial loss as a result of the death of a family member can initiate a wrongful death complaint. A lawsuit of this type is designed to cover the cost of funeral expenses, medical expenses, or compensation for pain the family has endured. Cases of this type are usually heard in a trial court in front of a jury.

The filing of a wrongful death complaint can occur even when the cause of death was unintentional. For instance, doctors have been sued when a patient has died while under his or her care. Hospitals are frequent recipients of a wrongful death complaint. Also, individuals have been prosecuted following a car crash that has led to the death of the other driver.

Even victims of crimes have been sued by family members of a suspect. Several cases have occurred that involve the death of a criminal. For example, if an unarmed burglar is killed by the homeowner who catches him in the act, the robber's family may file a wrongful death complaint against the victim, if he acted in a way that was not considered self-defense.

The burden of proof in a civil tort action is not normally as stringent as it is for criminal trials. Furthermore, the outcome of one trial usually has no bearing on the outcome of the other. There have been instances in which a defendant has been acquitted for murder in a criminal trial, but found guilty of wrongful death in a civil trial. The individual may be ordered to pay the victim’s family a compensatory fine if he is found guilty of causing the wrongful death of another.

In some cases, a defendant settles a claim in advance of a court hearing. This is agreed upon by both parties. It usually occurs at the advice of an attorney who believes that the outcome of a court hearing would not be in his client’s favor. Other times a settlement agreement may be reached to avoid costly attorney fees and a long, arduous trial.

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    • Wrongful death damages may help pay for funeral expenses.
      Wrongful death damages may help pay for funeral expenses.