How to Increase the Chances of a Successful Wrongful Death Lawsuit
Nothing can replace the loss of a loved one. You can, however, hold the people at fault responsible for the devastation they’ve caused. With help from a seasoned Philadelphia wrongful death lawyer, you can achieve both justice and compensation. Below, we discuss wrongful death claims and how you can increase your chances of winning a wrongful death lawsuit.
Elements of a Wrongful Death Lawsuit
A wrongful death lawsuit is much like a personal injury claim, but one in which the victim did not survive their injuries. Special rules apply to wrongful death claims, including with regard to who has the right to bring a wrongful death claim and what damages are available. In Pennsylvania, certain family members of the deceased can file a wrongful death claim to recover damages that they suffered as a result of the death of a loved one.
The plaintiff must establish the key elements to bring a successful wrongful death claim. Like a personal injury claim, the four elements of a wrongful death negligence claim are duty, breach, causation, and damages.
The defendant must have owed a duty of care to the deceased victim. That duty may be specific, such as the duty a doctor owes a patient, or it may be general, such as the duty of care every driver owes everyone else to drive with reasonable care.
Breach of duty means the defendant violated that duty of care by acting unreasonably. Typically, this is proven by a showing of negligence; the defendant did something a reasonable person would not have done or failed to do something a reasonable person would have done under the circumstances.
Causation means that the defendant’s actions or inaction led to the victim’s death. If causation and death are proven, the “damages” element is almost certainly satisfied. Legal damages in a wrongful death case include loss of income and financial support, loss of companionship and guidance, and other costs and losses.
Strengthening Your Wrongful Death Claims
Building a successful wrongful death case means strengthening your claims concerning each element. The more evidence you and your attorney can gather to prove each point, the better. Evidence and arguments that might increase your chance of winning include:
Duty of Care. If you can prove the defendant owed a heightened standard of care to the victim, you’ll have a stronger claim. For example, because SEPTA buses are “common carriers” under the law, bus drivers owe a high duty of care to their passengers. Regarding general duties owed to the public, it’s helpful to identify specific duties. For example, drivers are responsible for following all traffic and safety laws, including obeying speed limits, driving sober, and avoiding distractions such as texting.
Breach. Breach of duty–i.e., negligence–is the main point of contention for many wrongful death cases. Any evidence showing that the defendant acted unreasonably or inappropriately under the circumstances will boost your case. For example, traffic camera footage or witness testimony showing that the defendant driver was speeding, texting, changing lanes without signaling, or otherwise violating the rules of the road will support your claim that the defendant was acting negligently.
Causation. Evidence that directly connects the defendant’s actions to the victim’s death is essential in proving your case. Causation may be clear in some cases, such as if a driver hit a pedestrian who died on the spot. In other cases, such as if a slip and fall victim suffered a concussion or hip fracture and later succumbed to their injuries, more evidence might be needed to link the defendant’s negligence to the accident victim’s death. Medical expert testimony, accident recreation experts, photo and video evidence, police reports, autopsy reports detailing the cause of death, and other evidence can help show causation.
Damages. You and your attorney must establish that the victim’s death caused monetary damage. A wrongful death often results in a variety of damages, including loss of financial support, loss of emotional support, loss of spousal companionship, etc. Your attorney will use a variety of methods to calculate and prove your loss, such as by utilizing economists, accountants, and other expert witnesses.
In general, the more evidence you have to support your case, the better. The key in most cases is to prove that the defendant acted negligently and that that negligence led to the death of the victim. Your wrongful death attorney will help you identify and gather the evidence necessary to prove your case.