What Does A Wrongful Death Mean In The Legal Sense?

Many surviving family members of people who've died may feel the events leading to the person's passing were wrongful. When a wrongful death attorney examines a potential claim, though, they have to think about the issue in terms of what the concept means legally. Let's look at three legal factors that may build a wrongful death case.

A Defendant

No matter how awful events leading to death might be, it's hard to pursue a claim if there isn't an identifiable defendant. This can be painful if someone dies after a criminal assault without the attacker ever being identified, for example.

Notably, not all defendants are the person most directly responsible for the death. For example, a business might be liable for an incident involving one of its employees. Suppose a crane operator for a construction company loses control of a steel beam and the object strikes and kills a passerby on the ground. Most likely, the company and not the operator would be liable under wrongful death law.

Legal Liability

Not all people present when a death happens are inherently liable. For example, a bystander wouldn't be liable if they did nothing to save a drowning person during a flood. This applies even if they were the only person available who could render aid because they weren't responsible for the victim being in the water.

Liability typically arises from socially and legally accepted norms or the direct acceptance of responsibility for someone's safety. A homeowner can't leave a giant, unmarked hole in their yard, for example, because someone could come along and fall into it. Reasonable people would expect the person who dug the hole to put up brightly colored safety fencing and markers to warn people of the hole.

Similarly, certain overt actions imply an acceptance of liability. When a store opens its doors, it accepts liability for what might happen to members of the public who enter.

Proximate Cause

Finally, the liable defendant must be the proximate cause of the death. In the example involving a steel beam, there is no other reason the victim would have died. Absent the accident, that individual would have continued on with their day.

Some defendants will try to assert their actions or negligence weren't the proximate cause, though. A company in a chemical exposure case, for example, might assert the victim ignored a clear warning on a product's container. A wrongful death lawyer might counter by showing the warning wasn't prominent enough or was unclearly worded.

For more information, contact a wrongful death lawyer near you.