What Constitutes Wrongful Death?

In the aftermath of the recent tragedy in Charlottesville, many are troubled and hope for justice, both for Heather Heyer and the driver, James Fields. An important question, however, is: justice for what? James Fields actions can be classified as many different crimes. Officially, he has been charged with second-degree murder, but his actions might also be classified as manslaughter or wrongful death. What is the difference between these terms? Can Heather Heyer’s death be legally considered wrongful? In this article, we will explore the concept of wrongful death, some examples of it and what that might mean for you if you find yourself amidst a wrongful death case.

“Wrongful Death” can be applied to any case in which one person’s negligence and/or intention wholly or partially caused the death of another. There are four requirements that must typically be met for a wrongful death case:

  1. A death
  2. The death was caused by another person, with or without intent
  3. The dead person is survived by family or children
  4. The decedent’s estate must have a representative

If all of these conditions are met, there is a case to be made for wrongful death.

It is important to note that a person can be charged with both “murder” and “wrongful death.” The distinction between the two is that one, “murder” is the term used for criminal suits taken against individuals by the state. The other, “wrongful death,” is used in civil suits taken against individuals by other individuals or estates. Wrongful death cases might result in some financial reparations, but criminal punishments are only present in criminal trials. It is also important to note that since each charge is pursued in a different trial, it is possible that someone who is charged with both, might only be found guilty of one or the other. A stark example of this happening is OJ Simpson, who was found guilty of wrongful death but not of murder.

If wrongful death is a civil case, what are types of punishments can it justify? There are two categories of losses for which someone might be awarded following a wrongful death. In the first category, there are losses that the deceased might’ve earned from the cause of their death until the moment of their death. In the second category, there are losses that the deceased’s loved ones might’ve earned if they hadn’t had the emotional and financial turmoil related to the wrongful death. There are appropriate compensations for each of these categories that can be distributed amongst the deceased’s spouses, children, and even parents. Furthermore, depending on the circumstances of the death, a court may choose to take additional punitive measures against the defendant ranging from rehab to house arrest.

If someone close to you has been the victim of a wrongful death and you have suffered in any way because of it, you might be eligible for legal recourse. To be certain, you should contact an Indianapolis wrongful death attorney to discuss your options.

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