What’s the Difference Between Wrongful Death and Manslaughter?
The biggest difference between wrongful death lawsuits and manslaughter cases is that wrongful death is a civil claim, while manslaughter is a criminal charge. There are other more specific distinctions between the two as well, including the perpetrator’s state of mind, the court system in which each claim is adjudicated, who the plaintiff is, and the burden of proof required, and we will drill down into each category below. An experienced Los Angeles wrongful death lawyer with an impressive track record of success can best explain these differences.
What is a wrongful death claim?
Wrongful death lawsuits are typically filed by close relatives of the deceased victim. While the defendant may end up paying the plaintiff a significant amount of money, the defendant rarely spends any time in jail, and the whole purpose of these claims is to compensate the victim’s loved ones and help them get back on their feet after such a tragic loss. The wrongdoer in these cases is typically accused of acting or failing to act in a negligent manner.
The burden of proof that the plaintiff must satisfy is to show by a preponderance of the evidence that the defendant is liable for the victim’s death. This is a relatively low burden of proof, as it only requires the jury to believe that it is more likely than not that the defendant is liable. In other words, even if the jury is only 51% confident that the defendant’s negligence caused the victim’s death, that is enough in wrongful death lawsuits in order to find in favor of the plaintiff.
Common examples of wrongful death accidents
There are a number of potential examples of accidents that may give rise to wrongful death claims, including the following:
- Car, bus, truck, train, airplane, and pedestrian accidents
- Slip and fall cases
- Elder abuse or neglect
- Animal attacks
- Medical malpractice
- Premises liability
- Defective products
Ellis Injury Law is a trusted law firm in the wrongful death sector. Our wrongful death lawyers understand how to assertively advocate on behalf of our clients, and that includes ensuring that large corporations or insurance companies – who are often the defendants in wrongful death lawsuits – do not take advantage of you.
What is manslaughter?
Manslaughter cases, on the other hand, are filed by the state or federal government against the wrongdoer. Rather than attempting to help the victim’s loved ones put their lives back together, the plaintiff’s goal in these cases is to punish the defendant for his or her wrongdoing. Instead of pursuing financial compensation for the survivors of the deceased, the plaintiff will seek as much jail or prison time, fines, and/or community service as possible if the defendant is found guilty.
The burden of proof in these cases is that the jury must find that the defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, which is a much higher burden than in a wrongful death lawsuit. Stated another way, there cannot be another reasonable explanation for what happened other than that the defendant is guilty. While manslaughter cases do not require any malice on the part of the accused, they do require a higher degree of wrongdoing than wrongful death claims do. In other words, the perpetrator in manslaughter cases typically acts more egregiously than the perpetrator in a wrongful death case.
When do the wrongdoer’s actions give rise to manslaughter?
One example that a qualified wrongful death attorney may give of this particular distinction can be illustrated in a fatal car accident. If the driver of a car is traveling 80 miles per hour in a 65 miles per hour zone, and that excessive speed causes an accident that kills someone else, then the driver that was speeding may be held liable for wrongful death. On the other hand, if a driver in that same 65 miles per hour zone is traveling 105 miles per hour during a rainstorm, and the excessive speed causes a fatal accident, then that driver may be found guilty of manslaughter.
Can the same defendant be charged with both wrongful death and manslaughter?
It is important to note that the same wrongdoer can face a wrongful death lawsuit in civil court and a manslaughter charge in criminal court concurrently. Due in large part to the distinct burdens of proof in the two systems, it is quite possible that the government may not be able to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, but that the civil plaintiff will be able to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the defendant is liable.
Outstanding advocacy and outstanding results
For the past quarter of a century, Ellis Injury Law has been representing Southern Californians in wrongful death lawsuits, but we do not handle criminal cases. We have earned more than $350 Million on behalf of our valued clients.
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If you have lost a loved one due to the wrongdoing of someone else, call us 24 hours a day to schedule a free consultation. We have a Los Angeles personal injury lawyer standing by to work with you, and we do not charge anything unless you win.