Some people in California do not know the difference between wrongful death and murder, but knowing that difference may be critical to recovering damages for the loss of your loved one.
Wrongful death and murder are part of two completely different court systems, tort, and criminal, and the only thing wrongful death and murder cases have in common is that a person has died too soon and that person’s family members are trying to recover compensation.
“The main difference between wrongful death and murder is that the former occurs because of someone else’s negligence, while the latter occurs because of someone else’s intentional act,” explains our wrongful death attorney in California at the Mancini & Associates.
Typically, wrongful death lawsuits are filed by surviving family members when their loved one has died in a car accident, motorcycle accident, truck accident, slip, and fall accident, or because of a defective product or medical malpractice, among many other causes.
Homicide, manslaughter, and murder are tried through the criminal court system, while wrongful death cases are tried through the civil tort system. Another difference between murder and wrongful death in California is that the family members of a murdered person are represented by a prosecutor, while plaintiffs in wrongful death cases can either represent themselves or hire an experienced wrongful death attorney in California.
In a nutshell, wrongful death occurs due to the actions or omission to act of another individual, business, or entity. Generally, wrongful death cases are caused due to the negligence, carelessness, or recklessness of another person or entity. If surviving family members and their lawyer can establish the defendant’s fault, they will be entitled to monetary compensation. Unless the defendant has been convicted of a crime, he or she will not face criminal penalties in a wrongful death case.
A murder, on the other hand, is an entirely different universe. When the murder was intentional, murder charges are brought by the state, while the surviving family members are represented by the prosecutor to seek justice. If found guilty of murder, the defendant will be convicted of murder and face a prison sentence on top of other penalties.
Wrongful death and homicide cases also differ in terms of the amount of evidence required to prove the defendant’s guilt. In a murder case, the prosecutor has to establish that the alleged murderer is guilty “beyond a reasonable doubt.” Meaning, a jury must have no doubt whatsoever that the defendant is guilty of murdering the deceased.
In a wrongful death case, on the other hand, the surviving family members and their California wrongful death attorney are required to demonstrate a “preponderance of evidence” proving that the defendant was responsible for the death.
Therefore, the “preponderance of evidence” standard is a much lower burden of proof compared to the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard. In fact, some surviving families who have not been able to seek justice through the criminal court system chose to file a wrongful death lawsuit against the defendant and successfully recovered damages through the tort court system.