This week on Legal Break, Gary Bruce discusses wrongful death claims. He explains why sometimes we see discrepancies in results from criminal and civil suits involving a single death. Wrongful deaths claims arise when a person is killed by the negligence of another. Every state has different laws governing who can bring wrongful death claims, but typically a spouse, parent, child, or representative of the deceased’s estate can bring a wrongful death claim.
A wrongful death case is different from a criminal case brought by the state to prosecute a crime. Different results can appear to occur when a case is tried as a crime and as a civil action. This is because different burdens of proof exist for criminal and civil cases. In criminal cases, the State must prove their case “beyond a reasonable doubt”. However, in civil cases, the plaintiff need only present evidence in support of the case which proves facts by “a preponderance of the evidence.” In order to illustrate this concept, imagine a football field: ”beyond a reasonable doubt” would be equivalent to scoring a touchdown – or getting pretty close to the goal line. Whereas a “preponderance of the evidence” burden is to get the ball over the 50-yard line.
If you have any questions regarding wrongful death or another negligence claim please call the Law Offices of Gary Bruce at 706 569-1446 or email firstname.lastname@example.org to set up a meeting and free consultation.
Narrator: Now answering your questions about the law and legal issues, this is legal break with attorney, Gary Bruce.
Maureen: Hello there. Maureen Akers with Gary Bruce today. Gary thanks again for joining us.
Gary: Good to be here, thank you.
Maureen: We are going to jump right in. We’re talking about wrongful death. Tell us about wrongful death and what it is.
Gary: Well, we hear that a lot, right, we hear that term a lot. So, what does it amount to? It’s when someone is killed by the negligence of another. So, it’s a cause of action that you can bring in Georgia and Alabama. There’s different rules on each state, like most things. But, generally the damages, in Georgia at least, are measured by what was the value of the life of the person we lost; both economically, and then and just kind of, what was it, what did it mean for them to be a person. So, those are hard questions for juries, but that’s who determines these things. There’s not a chart there’s not a graph to go to. It’s up to the enlightened conscience of an impartial jury.
Maureen: Very good. Well, now who can file? So say there is a wrongful death, it happens to someone or a family, who can file that claim?
Gary: Statutes in both Alabama and Georgia determine who have the cases. It’s generally a parent, or a spouse, or children, or sometimes a combination. Someone has to direct the action. There’s usually an estate claim as well. So, if there’s some suffering before the death, the person’s estate actually has claims too. So, that’s a part that requires a statutory reading; reading the statutes and knowing what’s going on, and trying to put the right people in the right place for that.
Maureen: Absolutely. So now what about – we’ve heard these cases happen sometimes, where there’s a wrongful death, but the person who may be caused the death was acquitted of a crime, what happens in those cases?
Gary: Well a lot of times there is a criminal activity involved, and so there may be a criminal trial that takes place before a civil trial, for a lot of reasons. And if they’re acquitted it doesn’t mean they’re not responsible, it means maybe they didn’t find intent, but that doesn’t mean that they’d weren’t responsible for their negligence. So a lot of people- I see this sometimes- people will say “Well, it was just an accident.” What that means to me, “it was an accident, I didn’t for it to happen,” but that doesn’t mean they’re not responsible for what they did. So, the negligence of a party is determined separately than their criminal intent, and that’s why you may have inconsistent results that way or what may be perceived as inconsistent results. So, the big- you know- the reason sometimes can be based on the burden of proof too. And in a criminal case you have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt, we’ve all heard that. Civil cases are different, it is a more likely than not. So, if you look at it like a football field; criminal intent would require you to almost score a civil case, you get over the 50-yard line, a little different.
Maureen: Yeah very interesting, we’ll talk more on that later. Thanks so much Gary, look forward to seeing you on the very next Legal Break.