The court system in the United States is separated between civil courts and criminal courts. Examples of civil cases include divorce, probate, workers’ compensation, personal injury, and other matters involving injury to one’s person or property. Criminal cases are generally categorized into misdemeanors and felonies. Those can range from a shoplifting charge to being charged with multiple murders. Most civil cases usually involve a lawsuit by one person against another. In a criminal case, it’s a municipality, a state or even the federal government that prosecutes a case against a person who is alleged to have committed a crime.
Wrongful death cases
Wrongful death cases are brought in civil courts. They’re typically filed by the estates or families of persons who died as the result of the negligence of somebody else. Some examples of accidents that might give rise to a wrongful death case include:
Motor vehicle collisions
Bicycle and pedestrian accidents
Crashes involving airplanes, trains, buses or boats
Deaths resulting from the negligence of owners or occupiers of land
A wrongful death case might also be brought when a death results from an intentional act like a murder, but the only relief that a plaintiff is allowed to seek in a wrongful death case is an award of damages as opposed to a prison sentence. The O.J. Simpson case is an example of how murder charges can be brought in a criminal court, and an action for damages can be brought in a civil court. Although Simpson was found not guilty for two murders in the criminal case, civil wrongful death cases were also brought against him. He was found guilty in those cases, and damages of over $45 million were awarded. These outcomes resulted from the different burdens of proof in civil and criminal cases.
Burden of proof in a criminal case
In a criminal case, the accused person is presumed innocent of the crime that he or she is accused of having committed. To convict that person, the prosecution must prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. This burden of proof applies to every element of a crime, and if a prosecutor fails to prove any one element, the case is likely to fail. Unreasonable doubts might be raised on the guilt of an accused, but he or she may still be found guilty. If no reasonable doubt is raised, a jury has the ability to find a defendant guilty.
Burden of proof in a civil case
The burden of proof in a civil wrongful death case is much lower than that in a criminal case. That burden is a preponderance of the evidence, which usually means that the plaintiff’s side of the story is probably true. Regardless of the fact that the burden of proof is much lower in a civil case, the person bringing the action must also prove each and every element of either negligence or an intentional act. Failure to prove any single element of a wrongful death case results in the case falling in its entirety.
Every state has its own wrongful death statute, but each state’s statute is different. The one common thread between all of the statutes is that only family members are allowed to bring wrongful death cases. If a member of your family perished as the result of the negligence or intentional act of somebody else, it may be important to contact an experienced Atlanta GA injury lawyer right away.
Thanks to our friends at Workers’ Comp Lawyer Atlanta, GA for their added insight into the differences between civil and criminal cases around a wrongful death.