The Difference Between Wrongful Death and Murder

by gclatworthy on September 17, 2012

(US Law) Laws throughout the country can vary considerably depending upon what state a person is in. Some crimes that are considered felonies in one state may not even be a crime in another. The laws regarding deaths also differ between states, but there is usually a huge distinction between what is considered a wrongful death and what is considered murder. The obvious distinction is the fact that a wrongful death is a civil matter while a murder is a criminal matter, but there are other criteria that make the two separate. These distinctions are important when considering wrongful death lawsuits. 

Murder VS Wrongful Death

The first thing to know about these two instances is that murders are considered wrongful deaths but not vice-versa. Most states consider murder the unlawful and premeditated killing of another human being. This obviously does not apply in instances of war or self defense due to the fact that these killings are usually considered lawful. As explained by our Indiana wrongful death attorney, murder usually means that a person knowingly and actively planned and caused the death of another person. Though a murder can be tried in a civil court as a wrongful death, a verdict that states a person caused a wrongful death will not mean the respondent is legally guilty of murder.

Wrongful death means that a person is simply liable for another person’s death. This does not mean that they planned it or even meant for it to happen; it simply means that a person’s death was caused through negligence or a wrongful act by another person. A wrongful death suit can be brought against a person who accidentally caused a death by not yielding the right-of-way in traffic, not securing loads that are being transported, failing to remove a hazard they caused or any other act that is considered negligent.

Since these two acts are tried in separate courts, there are also differences in how they are handled. For a murder conviction to occur there must be proof beyond a reasonable doubt that a person planned and executed the killing of another person. Since wrongful death is a civil matter, it is only necessary to prove by a preponderance of evidence that the person wrongfully caused the death of another person. Preponderance of evidence basically means that the jury is fifty-one percent sure that the respondent caused the death.

Handling Wrongful Deaths

Victims of wrongful deaths are not around to speak for themselves, so it is often left to their families to bring forth civil action on the responsible party. Wrongful death suits are not as simple as other personal injury cases, so it is imperative that a person retain an attorney to handle the case. These cases can even be brought after a person is exonerated of murder charges. This was the case during the O.J. Simpson murder trial in which he was found not guilty of murder but still found to be responsible in civil court for the deaths that occurred.

State laws vary on who can bring a wrongful death suit forward. Many states only allow children, parents or spouses to file these claims, but other areas allow further removed relatives to handle the process as well. It is wise for a person to have death certificates, witness statements, and documents showing how a family is suffering through the loss of their loved one when they speak with their attorney. A lawyer experienced in civil and criminal law is often a good choice due to their knowledge of both ends of the spectrum.

Murder and wrongful death couldn’t be more dissimilar in the eyes of the law. A murder conviction will end with a person being confined to prison or worse. A finding of wrongful death however, will only allow a person’s family members to receive compensation for their loved one’s death. Wrongful death suits should be brought against any negligent or reckless party that caused another person’s death and against murderers who happen to escape justice on a technicality. These lawsuits are sometimes the only way to get some measure of justice. 

This article was written by Georgina Clatworthy, a former legal editor for repsected legal blog 1lawyersource.  She is now a contributing writer for Sevenish Law Firm, P.C who can offer Indiana wrongful death attorney services to those who have lost a loved one because of someone else’s negligence.  They understand the difficulty of bringing such cases and always act with the best interests of their clients at heart.

Previous post:

Next post: