How Do You Prove Wrongful Death?
Wrongful death is proven by evidence that is allowed in the courtroom. Types of this courtroom evidence include witness testimony, photos, videos, experts, treating doctors and medical experts. All of these pieces of evidence to prove a wrongful death are designed to answer four simple questions.
The four questions are the four questions that a jury will answer about the case. A wrongful death case will have four basic questions:
1. Was the defendant negligent?
The defendant in the wrongful death case is the person who caused the death. Negligence is a legal word that means a reasonable person would not have done the same thing in similar circumstances. The jury is asked whether the defendant was negligent. Therefore, the jury is deciding whether the defendant did something that a reasonable person would not have done.
The jury can answer either yes or no. The jury is 12 people, and a majority of nine is needed to decide whether the evidence has proven the defendant was negligent in California. If nine jurors or more decide that the defendant was negligent, the jury then answers question 2.
2. Was the defendant’s negligence the cause of the harm?
A defendant can be negligent, and not cause the wrongful death. Therefore a jury must answer the question that the negligence of the defendant is what caused the death. So the jury is answering did the defendant do something a reasonable person (or corporation) would not have done, and that is what lead to the killing.
The cause can be one single thing that leads to the death, or it can be multiple things that lead to the death.
For example: A equipment operator on a construction site backs his ore hauler truck over another construction worker (first act of negligence). It is later found out that the backup alarm for the truck was not working properly (second act of negligence). Each one of these acts is something a reasonable person should not have done. The heavy equipment operator should not have backed up his truck without checking it was clear behind him and the alarm company should have made alarms that continue to function. Both of these acts were negligent and caused the death.
3. What were the economic damages?
When someone dies wrongfully, there is money that is owed as a debt to the family. Part of proving wrongful death is the amount of the debt created by the wrongful acts. There are two types of debt that is created. One is economic (meaning money that you can calculate easily) and the other is non-economic.
Economic damages are medical bills, funeral expenses and loss of income to the family members of the person who died.
For example, if a construction worker dies because a chain breaks on a construction site, and a heavy 3 ton beam falls on a worker and kills him, part of the proof is how much his funeral costs, How many medical bills did he have to pay before he died? How much money was he going to provide to his wife and kids before he retired? All of these get added up, and are computed as answered as proof to the jury that those were the value of the economic damages.
4. What are the non-economic damages?
Non-economic damages are the things that cannot be easily calculated, and are the most significant portion of the case arising out of a death. These include loss of care, love, companionship, assistance, protection, affection, society and moral support By law, non-economic damages must be awarded by a jury. It is the law in the state of California that a jury will provide compensation if negligence and causation (1 and 2) are proven.
To prove non-economic damages, video, pictures, stories, witness testimony, friends, family and neighbors will be presented in the courtroom. The goal is to establish small stories that relate to every aspect of life that was taken away from the spouse and kids of the person who died. Each area of the non-economic damages will need to have pictures, stories and proof.