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The Difference Between Criminal Proceedings And Civil Proceedings In A Wrongful Death Case

Posted October 16, 2014 in Articles, Wrongful Death

The Reese Law Firm can assist you in holding the responsible parties accountable for their actions in civil wrongful death cases.  For example, if your loved one is visiting a friend at an apartment complex and your loved one is shot and killed in the parking lot of the apartment complex through no fault of his or her own.  In most instances, the criminal assailant is apprehended and arrested, charges are filed, and a criminal court proceeding takes place.  Most people are not aware that the apartment complex may also be liable for the death of your loved one and a separate civil proceeding takes place.

Most people are also not aware of the relationship between the civil and criminal proceedings brought against a defendant accused of wrongful death.  In the criminal case, the charges are filed by a prosecutor on behalf of the state and may include first degree murder, second degree murder, voluntary manslaughter, or other types of charges.  The case will go before a jury and if the defendant is convicted, he or she will face fines, jail, or death.  

The civil wrongful death case, which is a different type of proceeding, is filed by the victim’s family in order to recover money damages for their own benefit.  The family must prove the negligence of the responsible parties, who are named as defendants in the civil proceedings, and the jury determines if the defendants are liable in the civil wrongful death case.  Although a defendant in a criminal proceeding may be acquitted of all criminal charges, the defendant(s) in a civil wrongful death case may still be found liable.

In the civil proceedings, family members and dependents must be aware that the defendant will investigate the details of their relationship with their loved one (victim), and present this information in court before a jury.  Damages in these cases are based on the victim’s contributions to his or her family and dependents (plaintiffs). Therefore, the defendant can reduce the plaintiff’s damages by showing that the victim may have spent his or her income on other things, and did not have close emotional ties with his or her family members and dependents.

In the alternative, family members and dependents can conduct their own investigation of the defendant’s activities, and use this information to show that the defendant is liable. This is primarily accomplished through discovery once a lawsuit has been filed in the appropriate court.  During discovery, the defendant can be forced to turn over documents and other evidence favorable to the plaintiff.  In a case based on the negligence of the above-referenced apartment complex example, discovery may reveal that the defendant purposefully ignored risks to the victim’s safety.

If you believe that your loved one's death was caused by the negligence or deliberate act of someone else, then contact The Reese Law Firm immediately so we may help you to understand your legal rights and determine whether you should pursue a wrongful death claim.