Proving Negligence in a Wrongful Death Case

Washington’s definition of wrongful death is a loss of life caused by a wrongful act, neglect or default of another person. When someone suffers the loss of a family member due to wrongful death, the surviving loved one has the right to seek financial compensation with a wrongful death claim in Washington. Winning this type of case generally requires the filing party to prove negligence.

What Are the Elements of Negligence?

Negligence is a fundamental legal principle of personal injury law. The definition of negligence is the failure to act with a proper, appropriate, or reasonable level of care based on the situation. When negligence results in injury or death to another person, the negligent party can face legal financial responsibility (liability) for the victim’s losses.

The legal doctrine of negligence consists of four elements:

  1. Duty of care: an obligation or responsibility that the accused party (defendant) had to reasonably prevent harm to the deceased individual (decedent).
  2. Breach of the duty of care: an act or omission that a reasonable and prudent person would not have committed in the same or similar circumstances.
  3. Causation: a causal link between the defendant’s breach of duty and the death of the decedent; in other words, the death would not have occurred but for the defendant’s negligence.
  4. Damages: real losses suffered by the filing party (plaintiff) because of the death of a loved one, such as funeral costs, burial expenses, mental anguish and lost earnings.

A breach of the defendant’s duty of care can refer to many actions or failures to act that fell below the expected standard of care. This can include careless or reckless behaviors, a wanton disregard for the safety of others, violations of safety regulations, medical malpractice, and criminal acts.

What Is the Burden of Proof in a Wrongful Death Case?

The Revised Code of Washington Section 4.20.010 states that the right to maintain a legal action against a person who caused a wrongful death is granted to the personal representative of the deceased individual. It will then become the personal representative’s responsibility to meet the burden of proof to win a wrongful death case, as the plaintiff.

The burden of proof is a “preponderance of the evidence,” otherwise known as “more likely to be true than not true.” This is less than the burden of proof required in a criminal case (“proof beyond a reasonable doubt”). However, meeting this burden of proof still requires clear and convincing evidence of negligence or fault.

What Types of Evidence Can Be Used to Prove Negligence in a Wrongful Death Case?

Establishing a defendant’s negligence in a wrongful death cause of action in Washington requires compelling evidence. Evidence can take the form of documents and records, physical evidence, verbal statements, written testimonies, and photographs or videos. Accident reports, medical records, a coroner’s report, signed eyewitness statements, and testimony from experts are often used as evidence to support a wrongful death claim. Expert testimony can add credibility to a case and help establish the elements required to prove negligence.

If you recently lost a loved one in a preventable accident in Washington, you may need to hire an experienced attorney to help you prove negligence and recover compensation. For more information about the necessary elements of a wrongful death case, contact NW Injury Law Center to schedule a free consultation with a Vancouver wrongful death attorney.

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