Civil law, which establishes a system of justice for individuals who have been the victims of the reckless or negligent actions of others, rather than the victims of criminal acts, has existed as part of the American legal tradition since our country’s establishment. However, for many years, a prominent gap in the coverage afforded to injury victims existed in civil law statutes: only those who had actually suffered the damages could sue for compensation. In practice, this meant that those who caused the death of another individual, through negligence or recklessness, could not be held accountable for their actions.
Fortunately, this problem was eventually corrected with the passage of what are now known as wrongful death statutes. Under wrongful death civil law, the immediate family of an individual who has lost their life because of someone else has the right to hold that person (or persons) accountable for the loss that they have suffered, which in this instance would be the companionship and (potentially) financial support formerly provided by their loved one.
Wrongful death claims can be brought against individuals or groups of individuals (usually companies). This discussion will be limited to purely individual-based cases. These types of wrongful death claims are brought against individuals who, either directly or indirectly, can be shown to have played a prominent role in the events which ultimately led to the death of someone else.
A recent, high-profile example of an individual wrongful death case involved talk show host Nancy Grace, who was implicated in the suicide death of a young mother whose infant son had recently disappeared. Grace had invited the mother onto her show in order to question her about the whereabouts of her child, and though the woman had never been formally suspected of wrongdoing, the questions were overwhelmingly pointed towards that conclusion. Ultimately, her family alleged that the emotional pain caused by Grace’s allegations led their daughter to commit suicide, resulting in a substantial settlement between the two parties.
A more common form of individual wrongful death suits might involve the victim of a drunk driving accident. While the individual guilty of driving while intoxicated might also face criminal charges for their conduct, in many instances civil remedies, pursued with the help of a wrongful death lawyer, are the best way for families in this terrible position to get the compensation and closure they need.