4 Elements to Prove Wrongful Death

If you lose a loved one in an unexpected accident, you may have grounds to file a wrongful death lawsuit in Arizona. This type of lawsuit gives surviving family members a chance to obtain financial compensation as a form of justice against the person or party guilty of causing the death. Unlike a criminal case, however, a wrongful death lawsuit is a civil claim with a different burden of proof. To establish that a wrongful death occurred, you or your attorney generally must prove four key elements.

Duty of Care

The first element is a duty of care. This legal phrase refers to someone’s legal obligation or responsibility to another person to exercise a reasonable amount of care. For example, all drivers in Arizona have a duty to prevent car accidents by obeying traffic laws and safely operating their motor vehicles. To have grounds for a wrongful death lawsuit, there must be proof that the person allegedly at fault for the fatal injury (the defendant) owed the deceased individual (the decedent) a duty of care. 

The defendant’s exact duties of care will depend on the nature of his or her relationship to the decedent. If the defendant was a physician and the decedent was a patient, for example, the defendant would have owed the victim high standards of care according to the rules in the medical industry. Motorists, property owners, product manufacturers, the government and other parties all have different duties of care.

Breach of the Duty of Care

The second element to prove is a breach of duty. This element is often known as negligence. Negligence in a wrongful death or personal injury case refers to an action or omission that falls short of what a reasonable and prudent party would have done in the same or similar circumstances. A breach of duty can also refer to a reckless, malicious, wanton or intentional act of wrongdoing. Examples of a breach of duty are a driver breaking traffic laws, a doctor ignoring the signs of an injury and a manufacturer failing to warn consumers of product risks.

Proximate or Actual Cause

The third element is causation. There must be evidence that the defendant’s breach of the duty of care was the proximate (main) or actual cause of the decedent’s death. It is not necessary to prove that the defendant meant to cause the decedent’s death; rather, it is only required to show evidence of a link between the breach and the decedent’s final injury or illness. In other words, that the victim would most likely still be alive were it not for the defendant’s negligent or wrongful act.

Damages Suffered

The fourth and final element necessary to prove wrongful death is damages. The party filing the claim (the plaintiff) must show evidence of compensable losses suffered by the decedent and/or surviving family members because of the defendant’s actions. Compensable losses in a wrongful death claim often include mental anguish, pain and suffering, loss of consortium, lost wages, medical expenses, and funeral and burial costs.

How to Prove Wrongful Death in Arizona

The burden of proof, or the amount of evidence necessary to establish the elements of a wrongful death claim, is a preponderance of the evidence. This is enough clear evidence to convince a jury that these four elements are more likely to be true than not true. The goal is to prove that the defendant is legally responsible for the death in question with at least a 50 percent certainty. Evidence may take the form of accident reports, medical records, eyewitness statements, photographs and videos, and expert testimony. 

For assistance proving your wrongful death lawsuit, contact a Glendale wrongful death attorney. An attorney can help you gather evidence, present a compelling claim to the courts and optimize your chances of a successful suit.