Published On: Thu, Nov 13th, 2014

Know the Difference: Wrongful Death Vs. Murder Lawsuits

At law, there are several ways to charge an individual involved in an accident that caused death to another person. Two such ways are “wrongful death” and “murder.” Now, within the legal classification of “murder,” there are many different charges, each with its own legal consequences. But, if you’re involved in a lawsuit, it’s helpful to know the general outcome before you go to court.

Photo/Nodar Kherkheulidze via wikimedia commons

Photo/Nodar Kherkheulidze via wikimedia commons

What’s a Wrongful Death?

A wrongful death lawsuit is a civil lawsuit that involves only monetary damages. Usually, it’s filed by the estate, or the relatives, of the person who was killed. A lawyer is brought in to handle the case and seek damages on behalf of the estate or surviving relatives.

For example, if individual A kills individual B in a car crash, then individual B’s family might sue individual A for monetary damages, which amount to pain and suffering. These cases are usually brought about because of carelessness, deliberate action, or negligence on the part of the person being sued.

If a judgment is found in favor of the plaintiff, monetary penalties are assessed and a court order (e.g. an order of execution) can be used to garnish wages, seize property, and otherwise satisfy the judgment amount.

Civil Vs Criminal

As opposed to a civil case, a criminal case that involves murder or manslaughter is a criminal case where no monetary damages will be paid. Instead, the criminal case involves the state vs the individual, and the punishment is usually set in terms of prison time.

For manslaughter, cases are usually divided into voluntary or involuntary manslaughter. Involuntary manslaughter is the unlawful killing of another human being where there is no intent or premeditation. So, for example, if an individual were to slip on some black ice on a highway and slam into someone else and kill them, this could be considered involuntary manslaughter.

If the person was driving recklessly or in a manner that was inappropriate for the weather conditions, it would be negligent involuntary manslaughter. If, however, a person had killed someone in the “heat of passion” or it could be demonstrated that there was some kind of unusual emotion behind the killing, and that it wasn’t premeditated murder, then the charge may be classified as voluntary manslaughter.

Murder is usually classified broadly as “homicide” but the charge may be either first-degree, second-degree, or voluntary or involuntary manslaughter. First degree murder is any intentional killing that is willful and premeditated with malice and forethought.

So, for example, if an individual planned out the killing of another person, thought about how it would be done, planned for it, and then executed it, it would likely be classified as first-degree murder.

Second-degree murder is an intentional murder with malice and forethought, but it’s not premeditated or planned out in advance. So, for example, if a person robbed a bank, and ended up executing the clerk, that person may be charged with second-degree murder.

Levels Of Intent

Intent is an important concept in cases where a death occurs. The legal system treats even involuntary manslaughter very seriously. Any car accident lawyer in Las Vegas will tell you that most cases involving a death will consist of both a criminal and civil trial.

This is partially because civil trials allow families to be financially compensated for the death, prevent the killer from making money off of the incident (e.g. publishing a book from a jail cell), or ensure that there’s an economic consequence that follows the normal criminal consequence.

In some cases, a criminal case cannot be proved against the individual while a civil case concludes with a different outcome. That’s because criminal cases use the standard of “beyond a reasonable doubt” for a conviction, while civil cases are primarily only concerned with a “preponderance of the evidence.”

In other words, evidence does not need to be as strong or certain in a civil case as it does in a criminal case. It’s not that civil cases are easy to win, it’s that the standards of conviction are different.

When an individual is facing a criminal trial, it’s best to be able to show that the individual showed no malice toward the person killed. This doesn’t mean that the killer wasn’t in the wrong, however.

In a civil case, intent isn’t as important. Mostly, what matters is whether or not it can be proved that a wrongdoing has been committed. If it can, then the judgment is typically awarded to the plaintiff.

Guest Author :

Edward Bernstein has been in the business of helping others for more than 35 years and has handled tens of thousands of auto wreck and injury cases. He enjoys sharing his ideas and insights on the internet.


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