How Hard is it to Prove Wrongful Death?
If you have had the unfortunate experience of losing a loved one in a wrongful death accident, you may be entitled to compensation from an at-fault party but you will need to be able to prove that it was more likely than not that the defendant was negligent. Doing so means showing the elements of duty, breach, causation, and damages.
In some cases, the evidence is overwhelming and the defendant will be prepared to make a settlement offer early on. In other cases, one or more elements are contested, leading to a more involved litigation process. At Ellis Injury Law, our Los Angeles wrongful death lawyers help clients throughout Southern California hold individuals, businesses, and government entities accountable by building strong cases for liability and leveraging our extensive experience to advocate for full compensation.
What elements you must prove in a wrongful death lawsuit
Most wrongful death claims are resolved as insurance settlements but the typical insurance policy involved is a liability policy. This means you need to be able to prove that the defendant was liable, just as you would have to prove in court.
Proving liability means showing that the defendant was negligent but producing evidence that meets each of the following elements:
- Duty – The defendant must have had a legal responsibility to do or not do something. Drivers have the duty to follow traffic regulations. Medical professionals have a duty to provide competent care. Property owners have a duty to maintain the premises or warn those who enter about any dangerous defects. Many situations give rise to a legal duty but sometimes it does not exist. Your Los Angeles wrongful death lawyer will use a trained eye to spot potential breaches of duty leading to the wrongful death.
- Breach of duty – It is not enough that the defendant owed a duty of care to the deceased party. There must be evidence that he or she breached that duty, for example by not paying attention to oncoming traffic while making a left-hand turn or by administering the wrong dose of a medication.
- Causation – The breach of duty must have a logical connection to the death that occurred. This is referred to as “proximate cause” and it is more than just a “cause in fact.” If Driver A is looking at his phone and strikes the car of Driver B, then Driver A’s breach is both a cause in fact and a proximate cause of the accident. But compare this to another situation: Driver A is looking at his phone and narrowly misses Driver B’s car. Driver B is still nervous about the near-accident three blocks later and ends up hitting someone else. In this case, Driver A’s actions were a cause in fact of the accident but it was too far removed to be a proximate cause.
- Damages – A breach of duty is not grounds for a lawsuit or insurance claim unless there was actual harm caused. In the case of wrongful death, this should be easy to show but if the death was not proximately caused by the defendant’s action, he may have an argument against liability.
Methods of proving negligence in a California wrongful death case
Each case presents unique challenges so your wrongful death attorney will draft a customized plan to prove each of the elements in your case. For issues like causation, this may mean presenting testimony by eyewitnesses. For duty or breach of duty, it may require hiring expert witnesses who can explain to a jury what the defendant should have done under the circumstances.
Your lawyer will also be prepared to tackle issues like claims of contributory negligence by the deceased loved one, which may reduce the value of the claim or the negligence of third parties. These kinds of claims can seem overwhelming but a skilled lawyer knows what to expect.
Discuss your case with an attorney in LA
Proving a wrongful death requires meeting complex requirements but a Los Angeles personal injury lawyer can help. At Ellis Injury Law, our team is well-versed in the laws and court procedures that affect your wrongful death claim. We understand the emotional and financial strain that the loss of a loved one can cause and we fight for
To find out how we can help, call today to schedule a free consultation.