After losing a loved one due to a criminal act, many families become confused about how they or the state can hold the defendant accountable for their heinous actions. When someone dies because of the actions of another person, two legal avenues come into play—the criminal court and the civil court. A family that wishes to file a wrongful death lawsuit directs their attention to the civil court.
What Is Wrongful Death?
Wrongful death is any fatality due to direct or indirect negligence or a criminal act. The victim isn’t responsible for their injuries or their demise. In these cases, the family must prove that the civil defendant is accountable for their loved one’s death. Families must present all details of what happened when meeting a wrongful death lawyer. The attorney collects information so they can gather the evidence to support the legal claim.
How Is a Wrongful Death Lawsuit Different from Criminal Proceedings?
A wrongful death lawsuit is a legal claim in the civil court used to collect compensation for financial losses incurred by the family. The monetary award includes medical care and funeral expenses for the victim.
In some cases, tort or non-economic damages are available. For example, suppose the death causes a loss of financial support, mental anguish, or loss of companionship. In that case, the court may award a monetary award for these reasons.
The burden of proof for a civil case differs from a criminal case. The civil case evidence substantiates the claim that the defendant is accountable for the victim’s death. The evidence doesn’t have to prove the defendant’s intent to cause the victim’s death, just that the fatality happened because of their actions or negligence. Therefore, confirming that the defendant committed a criminal infraction in the civil court is unnecessary.
What Happens in Criminal Court?
When someone dies due to a crime like murder, the criminal court, via the district attorney, files formal charges against the defendant. The accused pleads guilty and proceeds to sentence, or the criminal court has a trial. During a criminal trial, the district attorney must present evidence that the defendant committed the crime. Then, a jury of the defendant’s peers must render a conviction.
The burden of proof for a criminal case is complex. The prosecution’s evidence must prove intent and show how the defendant committed the crime. Securing a conviction requires the prosecution to eliminate any reasonable doubt that the defendant committed the crime.
In Texas, restitution is a financial award possible in a criminal case. It is not the same as a monetary award in civil court. Still, the state orders restitution to force the defendant to pay the party that was wrong after a conviction.
Speaking to an attorney could help families determine if they have a viable wrongful death case against another party. When the case connects to a criminal case, some complexities may emerge and lead to confusion for the victim’s family. Learning the difference between a wrongful death case and a criminal case sheds light on what the family can expect moving forward.