The death of a loved one is always tragic. When it happens under circumstances you believe might have been avoided, the hurt can be even worse. The family of the deceased can pursue a wrongful death lawsuit in an attempt to seek some level of justice.
Galligan & Newman has fought for people in Warren, White, Van Buren, Grundy, Putnam, and DeKalb Counties for 40 years. When you need a wrongful death lawyer, an attorney from our McMinnville office is here to help. Call us at (931) 473-8405 or contact us online.
We were kept informed about everything that was happening with our case, and the positive outcome of the case was literally life-changing for us.Susie T.
It’s important to emphasize that a wrongful death lawsuit is not a criminal case. Criminal charges can only be brought by the District Attorney and in these cases the plaintiff is the government, acting on behalf of society. The purpose of the trial will be to determine if the defendant is guilty and if so, what type of sanction will be handed down by the state. Consequently, the burden of proof is high–the defendant’s guilt must be established beyond a reasonable doubt.
By contrast, a wrongful death lawsuit is initiated in civil court. Per Tennessee law, those that can file this lawsuit are limited to the spouse of the deceased, their child or next of kin, their parents or the representative of their estate. The defendant faces no risk of jail time. The civil courts are a place for family victims to seek financial recompense for their loss.
Consequently, the burden of proof in a wrongful death case is not as high as it would be in the criminal courts. In a civil claim, guilt must only be established by a preponderance of evidence. That is, the court must simply believe that it’s more likely than not the defendant’s action caused a person’s death, rather than to be convinced beyond a reasonable doubt.
If a criminal act is the cause of your loved one’s death, the defendant can be tried by the D.A., and still be subjected to your wrongful death lawsuit. But it is not necessary for a crime to be the cause of death.
Presuming no crime was committed, the issue in a wrongful death lawsuit will be negligence. This is the principle behind any personal injury lawsuit. And when you get right down to it, a wrongful death lawsuit is really a personal injury case that the victim is unable to bring on their own behalf.
That means the plaintiff must prove the four components of negligence. This involves demonstrating the defendant owed the plaintiff a duty of care, that the duty was breached, that the breach was the cause of the incident, and that the incident caused damages. All four of these components must be proven to win a wrongful death lawsuit.
Wrongful death cases cover a range of possible tragedies. Car accidents are the most common. A medical malpractice case can turn into a wrongful death lawsuit if the patient dies. Death because of a defective product makes a product liability case turn into something much more.
The nature of the incident that took the life of your loved one will determine which part of proving negligence presents the most challenges. For example, in a car accident, proving duty of care can be easy enough–we all owe a duty to those around us when we drive. Proving that the other driver breached their duty might be harder. In a medical malpractice case, proving that the doctor deviated from professional norms can present a unique challenge. In product liability, you might need to establish that your loved one was using the product as intended.
But for the sake of discussion, let’s say you are able to prove the first three parts of negligence–that a duty of care existed, that it was breached and that it caused the death. What about damages?
Proving negligence is just the first step. An experienced Warren County wrongful death lawyer will fight for your rights in the settlement offer. From our McMinnville office, Galligan & Newman serves clients into Upper Cumberland. Call us at (931) 473-8405 or contact us onlinetoday.
How Do Damages Work in a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?
Tennessee determines damages on two different levels. The first is what’s called a survivor’s claim. This is where the court determines the damages that the deceased might have been able to claim in a standard personal injury lawsuit had they lived.
Let’s say your loved one was injured in a motorcycle crash and died in the hospital after three days. The court adds up the costs of this care, the lost wages from three days and then makes a determination of how much to award for pain and suffering.
Next, the court considers the claim being filed by you or your family. Strict financial damages can include funeral costs. A spouse or parent that might have relied on the deceased’s income can collect damages for what the deceased might have been reasonably expected to earn far into the future. Then there is the intangible decision that has to be made on how much to award for pain and suffering.
Pain and suffering is difficult for a court to calculate. It can be even more difficult for a plaintiff to argue–after all ,no amount of money is going to bring your loved one back and putting a dollar value on what they meant to you is absolutely impossible. But it is something a Tennessee court has to try. Witnesses who can testify to what the deceased meant in your life and the lives of those around you can factor into the final pain and suffering award.
Is a Wrongful Death Lawsuit Criminal or Civil?
When it comes to the unfortunate occurrence of wrongful death in Tennessee, it is crucial to differentiate between the legal realms of criminal and civil matters. In Tennessee, as in many jurisdictions, wrongful death lawsuits are primarily handled in civil court rather than criminal court. This means that the primary objective of a wrongful death lawsuit is not to pursue criminal charges or send the responsible party to jail, but rather to seek financial compensation for the loss and damages suffered by the victim's surviving family members.
In a wrongful death lawsuit, the focus is on proving that the death was caused by the negligence, recklessness, or intentional misconduct of another party. If successful, the court may order the at-fault party to provide monetary compensation to the surviving family members to help alleviate the financial burdens caused by the loss of their loved one.
However, it's important to note that in certain cases, criminal charges may also arise alongside a wrongful death lawsuit. The decision to pursue wrongful death criminal charges is made by the relevant authorities, such as the district attorney's office, based on the evidence and circumstances surrounding the death. Criminal charges in a wrongful death case typically involve allegations of manslaughter, vehicular homicide, or other related offenses, depending on the specific circumstances of the incident.
While the criminal charges and the wrongful death lawsuit are distinct legal proceedings, they may be interconnected. The outcome of the criminal proceedings can have an impact on the civil case. For instance, if the responsible party is found guilty of a crime related to the death in criminal court, it can strengthen the civil case by establishing liability and demonstrating the negligence or intent of the defendant. The evidence and verdict from the criminal trial can be used as evidence in the civil lawsuit to support the claims made by the plaintiff.
Galligan & Newman can’t bring your loved one back. We can’t take away the pain, as much as we wish we could. What our office can do is take the burden of seeking justice off your shoulders, and take on the hard work of proving negligence and getting a fair award in your wrongful death lawsuit. Call us at (931) 473-8405 or contact us online to set up a free consultation.
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