What is a Wrongful Death?
A wrongful death occurs when one party’s actions, misconduct, or neglect cause another person’s death. Common examples of wrongful death include, but are not limited to:
- Medical malpractice
- Car accidents
- Intentional murder
- Defective products
Generally, a party can file a wrongful death claim against another in circumstances where the victim (who could have filed a personal injury suit had that person survived) is killed as a result of the “wrongful” actions of another party.
Understanding The Four Liabilities
All mistakes that cause death are not viewed equally in the eyes of the law. Under California law, for example, there are four levels of a person’s “mens rea” or state of mind that impact the criminal and/or civil liability that a person may face for causing the wrongful death of another person.
Generally, a person (including medical providers) may be liable for wrongful death if a judge or jury concludes that the person who caused the death did so by acting under one of the four following ways:
- Intentional conduct
- Reckless Indifference
- Strict Liability
Intentional Conduct —Intentional conduct occurs when one person intentionally kills another. In that case, they can be held both criminally and civilly liable for the person’s death.
Reckless Indifference — Reckless indifference includes situations where an individual understood (or should have understood) that their actions were likely to cause injury or death.
Negligence — Physicians, police officers, and even people involved in car accidents owe others a varying “duty of care” depending on the situation. If one party fails to provide adequate care to another by accident, not paying proper attention or carelessness, they can be held liable under a theory of negligence.
Strict Liability — In rare circumstances, California’s strict liability laws allow the family of the deceased to seek damages for wrongful death even where the party who caused the death was not negligent or reckless.
What is the Difference Between Reckless Indifference and Negligence?
Generally, the difference between reckless indifference and negligence is that reckless behavior causes dire or catastrophic consequences in circumstances where that person knew or should have known that their actions were either inherently dangerous or were very likely to cause serious injury or death (i.e., playing Russian roulette). Negligence, by contrast, involves situations where normal (and not inherently dangerous) conduct is engaged in by a person, but something goes wrong which then causes injury or death.
For example, purposely running a red light and causing another person’s death could be considered reckless. On the other hand, an individual searching for something under their seat who mistakenly runs a red light and causes another person’s death would likely be considered negligent.
Contact a Wrongful Death Attorney
If you’ve lost a loved one due to a wrongful death, you deserve justice. Working with a skilled wrongful death attorney can drastically increase your chances of receiving maximum compensation in a wrongful death personal injury case.
If you’re loved one has suffered a wrongful death at the hands of a physician, reckless driver, or otherwise guilty party, you may be eligible to seek compensation for their untimely death. Contact the Trial Law Offices of Bradley I. Kramer, M.D., ESQ., for your free initial consultation with a wrongful death attorney you can trust.