The distinctions between murder and wrongful death are more than just a matter of semantics. In broad terms, a murder conviction imposes a lengthy prison sentence on a criminal defendant, whereas a finding that a defendant is liable for another person’s wrongful death imposes a civil penalty of monetary damages.

Thus, a murder and wrongful death can come from the same event. The defendant may face both criminal and civil trials to assess the facts of the case, but the standards of proof and the outcomes and penalties of each are very different.

If someone in your family has died as a result of injuries that were caused by another person’s intentional or negligent conduct, call us to speak with a Los Angeles wrongful death lawyer about your prospects for filing a wrongful death lawsuit. Our firm represents individuals in wrongful death civil actions in Southern California. You can proceed with a wrongful death lawsuit regardless of whether a prosecutor brings separate criminal charges against that person. 

How Does the Burden of Proof Differ Between Murder and Wrongful Death?

Like in all other criminal matters, a prosecutor that has charged a defendant with murder will need to prove to a jury that the defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Every defendant is considered innocent until the prosecutor has met this very high standard.

In contrast, a plaintiff in a civil matter only needs to prove that the defendant committed the actions that are alleged by a preponderance of the evidence. Thus, if the facts suggest that the defendant more likely than not caused injuries that resulted in someone else’s death, they can be held liable. Further, the victim’s survivors can collect monetary damages from them.

Is Intent an Element of a Wrongful Death Lawsuit??

Intent is a critical element of criminal charges. In a murder case, the prosecutor will need to prove that a defendant intentionally committed one or more acts or participated in criminally reckless behavior (e.g., driving while intoxicated) that caused another person’s death.

A private attorney does not need to prove the defendant’s intent in a civil case, and many wrongful death actions are based on a defendant’s negligent conduct with no focus on intent. In addition, they do not need to be criminally charged or convicted of murder or manslaughter to be civilly liable for another party’s wrongful death.

Who Can File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?

In California, civil wrongful death lawsuits can be initiated by a victim’s estate or family members, including their surviving spouse or domestic partner, parents, or children. Under certain circumstances, a person who relied on the victim for financial support might also be eligible to file.

Can a survivor file a wrongful death lawsuit if a defendant is found not guilty of murder in a separate criminal trial?

Proving that a defendant is liable for a wrongful death will always be more straightforward if that defendant has also been convicted of murder in a criminal trial. However, a not guilty verdict does not prevent survivors from filing a civil action.

If the defendant is found liable for wrongful death, the victim’s survivors may be able to collect monetary damages equal to their funeral expenses, hospital bills provided to the victim before their death, the value of the victim’s lost income and potential future earnings, and other compensation for intangible matters such as companionship and household services.

Call the Salamati Law Firm to Consult with a Los Angeles Wrongful Death Lawyer

Please see our website or contact us directly to speak with an attorney about your prospects to recover the damages you deserve. California allows only two years for the victim’s survivors to file. Contact us as soon as you can to avoid missing this deadline.

We represent families across Los Angeles in wrongful death lawsuits to recover after a family member has died in an accident caused by another person’s negligence. We offer complimentary consultations on all wrongful death matters, and we are committed to recovering the damages that survivors need to make them whole.