Legal term guide: wrongful death

Oct 04

The legal world is intimidating precisely because of how it speaks. What I mean is that lawyers speak in their own language, with their own terms, and our inability to understand intimidates us. Just as you might feel intimidated walking in a big city in some foreign country where the language isn’t English, so you feel intimidated talking to a lawyer who isn’t speaking to you in words you understand.

In some ways, the lawyer situation is worse. If you are in another town, you are probably there by choice: you’re on vacation, or you’re there on business. You can get over being intimidated and just enjoy yourself or get your work done. With a lawyer, though, you are probably only talking to him or her because you need a lawyer. Something has happened in your life that requires legal advice, and if that lawyer can’t explain himself or herself to you clearly, you are in for some real stress and potentially life-changing mistakes.

In an effort to ease these concerns, I’m going to start a series that covers some basic legal language. That way, you can speak to your lawyer and understand what he or she has to say.

The first time I’d like to cover is “wrongful death.”

You’ve probably heard of wrongful death suits; these occur after someone has died either by a mistake or willful violence of another. The surviving members of the family can then sue for the “pecuniary,” or financial, damages that the family incurs after the death of their relative.

Wrongful death can occur through several avenues: medical malpractice, automotive accidents, work-related incidents, and especially criminal behavior.

Most famously, OJ Simpson was sued for the wrongful death of his ex-wife Nicole Brown and her friend Ron Goldman. He lost the case and was required to pay out millions to the grieving families.

In order to win a wrongful death case, a few things must be proved: negligence or intent to harm was present, and the loss of this individual will have an adverse effect upon the family finances.

This second point is important. Though the wrongful death of a grandparent is tragic, it may not fall into this category of a lawsuit and may instead have to be filed more directly under a different category, such as, say, medical malpractice.

Though pecuniary damages are the main thrust of such lawsuits, there is also such a thing as punitive damages, which is money extracted from the guilty party simply as punishment. It is then awarded to the victims.

If you find yourself in the unfortunate situation of considering a wrongful death suit, be sure to find a lawyer who can appreciate the state of your emotions at the time. This lawyer’s site is a good example of people who seem to understand how difficult such cases are for the people involved.

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