Whether you’re in Virginia or another part of the country, the elements needed to prove a wrongful death claim remain the same. Wrongful death is the legal term used to describe an individual’s death caused by the negligence or recklessness of another person, group or entity.
Duty of care
To prove wrongful death by negligence or recklessness, the plaintiffs must prove that the defendant is liable for death. The plaintiff must prove that the defendant owed a duty of care or legal responsibility to keep the deceased victim safe or refrain from undertaking actions that would cause harm. The judge, not a jury, decides if the defendant owed the decedent duty of care or not.
Breach of duty
If the judge decides the defendant did owe a duty of care, the plaintiff must then prove that the duty owed was breached. The plaintiff must provide evidence showing that the defendant failed to act or respond as any reasonable person with the same duty of care would. This is typically evidence of negligence or reckless behavior by the defendant.
Causation and damages
The plaintiff must also prove that the breach of duty undertaken by the defendant was the cause of death suffered by the decedent. Proving causation is largely based on the facts of each case. Proving damages typically involves quantifying the losses following the death, including loss of income, potential earnings and medical expenses, among others.
Filing a wrongful death claim
Consult a lawyer if you’re thinking about filing a wrongful death claim. Legal counsel may help you explore each element and gather the evidence needed to bring the wrongful death claim to civil court.