The Difference Between Wrongful Death Claims and Criminal Charges
What’s the difference between wrongful death vs. criminal charges? Our attorneys have worked on both over the years. So while we focus on wrongful death (civil lawsuits), we understand the system inside and out.
Wrongful death claims and criminal charges are two different legal processes. While both serve to hold people accountable for a death, they differ in terms of their purpose, burden of proof, and potential outcomes.
What Is a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?
A wrongful death occurs when someone dies because of someone else’s misconduct or negligence. If a family believes someone else was responsible for their loved one’s death, they can file a civil suit.
This lawsuit will seek financial compensation for the family’s loss. The compensation could include:
- missing companionship
- lost wages
- funeral expenses
- and more.
Purpose of Wrongful Death vs. Criminal Charges
Wrongful death vs. criminal charges differ in their purpose. A wrongful death lawsuit attempts to get financial recovery for losses suffered by surviving family members. On the other hand, criminal charges attempt to punish the person responsible through the criminal system.
In wrongful death, the family brings the civil charges with the help of a lawyer. Criminal charges, in contrast, come from the state or federal government.
A Different Burden of Proof
The burden of proof in a wrongful death claim is typically lower than in a criminal case.
In a criminal case, the prosecution has to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant committed a crime that led to the death. It’s a high bar that needs unanimous agreement from a jury of the defendant’s peers.
In a wrongful death claim, the plaintiff simply has to prove:
- the defendant’s actions or negligence caused the death of their loved one, and
- the person bringing the claim suffered damages as a result.
The phrase “beyond a reasonable doubt” only applies to criminal cases.
Potential Outcomes in Wrongful Death Cases vs. Criminal Cases
While a criminal case can result in punishment through the legal system, civil wrongful death cases result in financial compensation.
For example, if a court finds someone guilty in a criminal case, they may recommend a variety of outcomes, including:
- community service
- and more.
However, a wrongful death claim seeks only financial compensation for the losses suffered by the surviving family members. If the court finds the person liable, the only question will be how much money they owe for their actions.
A Way to Get Accountability
In both cases, criminal charges and wrongful death have the power to hold the defendant accountable for their actions. But with wrongful death, you can hold the personal accountable even if they’re not found guilty in a criminal case.
Famously, this happened with OJ Simpson, who was found not guilty in criminal court but had to pay compensation to the victims’ families after a later wrongful death suit.
Sometimes, a criminal case may not even be possible. For example, at our Memphis firm, we often pursue wrongful death suits against corporations like dangerous pharmaceutical companies and product manufacturers. Those companies may never see the inside of a criminal courthouse, but they did cause people’s deaths and need to be held responsible.
Wrongful death helps us get restitution for the families they affected.
A Trusted Memphis Lawyer for Your Wrongful Death Lawsuit
If someone you love died because of someone else’s negligence or wrongdoing, you need to speak with an attorney who understands all your options.
You may need to press criminal charges. Or you may need to focus on civil charges. In some cases, you might need both.
For over 30 years, our attorneys have handled wrongful death lawsuits for the people of Memphis. This includes car accidents, dangerous drugs, and many other types of abuse and misconduct.
We understand the system better than anyone, because we’ve worked on both the criminal and civil side. As civil lawyers, we fight for you tirelessly, and we don’t make a dollar unless and until you do.
Our fearless team works with compassion and wisdom to get you the best outcome possible. That’s how we’ve won cases against some of the biggest companies in the world. And it’s how we’ve developed such a strong reputation in the city of Memphis, including multiple awards for client satisfaction.
To get started with a free conversation, contact us today. Call me at 901-327-2100 or fill out the form below.