Is Wrongful Death a Crime?

Wrongful death is a civil action brought against a party who is alleged to have caused the death of another person due to negligence, recklessness, or intentional acts. However, the circumstances leading to a wrongful death are sometimes also criminal in nature.

For example, if a motorcyclist dies as a result of a drunk driver’s actions, the driver could also face criminal charges, such as vehicular manslaughter, in addition to a wrongful death lawsuit filed by the victim’s family. A wrongful death lawsuit is a civil action focused on providing financial compensation to the deceased’s family for their loss, while criminal charges aim to determine fault, punish, and caution against repeating reckless actions.

Speaking to a Los Angeles wrongful death lawyer can help you or someone you know start the process of making a claim. Finding the best wrongful death lawyer (los angeles) won’t be difficult, as John J. Perlstein is the lawyer you’re looking for.

What is the difference between a wrongful death lawsuit and criminal charges?

A wrongful death lawsuit is a civil lawsuit, brought by the deceased’s family or estate, that seeks monetary compensation for their loss. This type of claim aims to hold the responsible party accountable for the economic and emotional damages stemming from the fatality. Wrongful death lawsuits are meant to provide financial relief to the victim’s family, not punish the defendant.

Conversely, criminal charges are filed by the government against the alleged offender to penalize them for illegal actions. The purpose of criminal charges is to impart public morality, deter similar future actions, and punish those who have committed crimes. The repercussions of criminal convictions may also have a financial component, though not to the same extent as a wrongful death lawsuit, but will most often involve time served.

Burden of Proof

In a wrongful death lawsuit, the burden of proof is determined by the preponderance of the evidence standard. California jury instructions state, “‘Preponderance of the evidence’ means evidence that has more convincing force than that opposed to it. If the evidence is so evenly balanced that you are unable to say that the evidence on either side of an issue preponderates, your finding on that issue must be against the party who had the burden of proving it.”

This requires the plaintiff in a wrongful death lawsuit to demonstrate that it’s more likely than not that the defendant’s actions or negligence caused the victim’s death. A general rule of thumb is that they need to prove there is a 51% likelihood that their claims are accurate.

Criminal cases have a significantly higher burden of proof. The prosecution must prove the defendant is guilty “beyond a reasonable doubt.” The higher standard of proof in a criminal case requires that the evidence presented leaves no reasonable doubt in a juror’s mind that the defendant is guilty of the crime(s) they’re charged with. The high burden of proof is to protect innocent individuals from being wrongfully convicted, which is all the more important when the crime involves death.

Damages vs Punishments

Damages from a wrongful death lawsuit and punishments in criminal cases differ in their nature, purpose, and recipients. Because it is a civil action, a wrongful death lawsuit seeks monetary compensation for a loss of life. These damages can include financial relief for medical expenses, lost wages, as well as compensation for emotional pain and suffering. In some cases, punitive damages may also be awarded to punish the defendant and discourage similar behavior in the future.

Criminal charges aim to penalize offenders for criminal behavior, discourage future criminal acts, and protect the public. Punishments can be severe and lasting. The consequences of criminal charges are directed at the wrongdoer and are imposed by the court, not the victim’s family.

Can I file a wrongful death claim while a criminal charge is pending?

You may file a wrongful death claim while a criminal charge is pending. These two actions are separate and distinct, as wrongful death lawsuits are civil proceedings brought by the deceased’s family or estate, while criminal charges are part of the criminal justice system. They have different objectives, legal criteria, and results.

A wrongful death claim overlapping with a criminal case can sometimes benefit the wrongful death claim, as evidence and witness testimony from the criminal proceedings can be used to support it. That said, the cases operate independently and may have different outcomes. Conviction in a criminal case does not always assure success in the wrongful death lawsuit, and vice versa. Since the burden of proof is lower in a civil wrongful death claim, it’s possible for a defendant to be found liable in a civil case even if they are acquitted in a criminal case.

Speak to the Best Wrongful Death Attorney [Los Angeles]

John J. Perlstein understands your grief and will do everything he can to hold the responsible parties accountable. While we cannot reverse time, we can fight relentlessly to get you maximum financial compensation. We are widely recognized as the best wrongful death law firm in Los Angeles, winning settlements of up to $10 million. Our firm has been helping families of victims seek monetary recourse for over 25 years and can guide you through a wrongful death claim with great care, sensitivity, and expertise. To set up a free consultation about a potential wrongful death claim, fill out our online contact form or give us a call at (213) 252-1070.

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