Is Wrongful Death a Civil Or Criminal Action?

June 22, 2022

In a wrongful death circumstance, the question often raised is: " Is wrongful death a civil or criminal action?" In many cases, it is both.

While wrongful death is not necessarily considered a crime, it could be a crime that caused or is associated with the death of a person. Those circumstances that led to a wrongful-death lawsuit could lead to criminal charges against the at-fault party in a separate court proceeding. In that instance, a person who is held responsible for the death of another person may be convicted of a crime that was related or involved in that death.

The Legal Information Institute explains that a wrongful-death action is a civil suit in which the plaintiff holds the defendant responsible for causing the death of another person by failing to prevent it, or taking willful actions. Although the state laws vary, many states allow eligible family members to bring a wrongful-death lawsuit and be compensated for their loved one who was  killed by another party's negligence.  Hiring a good wrongful death lawyer can help them file the wrongful death suit within the prescribed timeframe to avoid any unnecessary delays.

Different types of court cases

The United States courts system is composed of two distinct bodies of law. Although some cases may end up in both the federal and state courts, they have completely different purposes, processes and outcomes. Legal experts point out that criminal law refers to crimes and the punishments they bring about, while civil law concerns an individual's rights.

Civil Cases

Because wrongful death cases are handled in civil courts, and not criminal courts, there is no need for wrongful death charges. This type of proceeding allows family members and survivors of the deceased to sue the person accused of causing their loved ones' death due to their negligence. To obtain financial compensation from the person, they must file a wrongful-death lawsuit. The plaintiff must prove that they were negligent in the following:

  • The decedent was owed a duty to care by the defendant.
  • The defendant violated their duty to care.
  • The decedent died as a result of their breach of duty.
  • The estate and their family suffered significant financial losses after their death.

Decedents and survivors have the right to claim compensation for injuries caused by another person in civil cases. The decedent's family may be eligible for financial awards if the defendant meets the legal criteria of negligence.

Criminal Cases

Criminal cases are different from civil cases. These cases deal with disputes between people or parties. There are many different types of punishments available. While civil cases can require the defendant to compensate the decedents and their families, criminal cases usually result in the defendant being incarcerated or on probation.

Both civil and criminal litigation may be held simultaneously

Sometimes, the family of a deceased person may move a defendant from a criminal court to a civil court in order to obtain financial recovery, as with the O.J. Simpson case following the deaths of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman.  If a person is arrested by law enforcement for homicide, they will most likely need to go through the criminal court process in order to determine their guilt as well as the possible punishment.

The family or estate of the victim can also take the accused to civil court, regardless of their verdict in the criminal court. The outcome of the criminal case against the defendant will not be affected by civil court proceedings. However, civil courts can hold the defendant liable if they are found liable for financial damages to the loved ones of the deceased.

If you recently lost a loved one in a wrongful death, contact our wrongful death lawyer for a FREE consultation . . . .

Michael D. Beharry, Esq.

An experienced personal injury attorney in the Miami area, who is committed to helping injured accident victims with cases involving car accidents, truck accidents, motorcycle accidents, rideshare accidents, wrongful death, slip and falls, as well as brain and spinal cord injuries.

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