How Do Attorneys Prove Negligence in a Wrongful Death Claim?
To hold another party liable for a wrongful death requires proving their negligence is responsible for it. Negligence is a legal term used to define a party’s failure to exercise the reasonable care expected of them in a particular situation. That may mean committing a reckless act or failing to act at all. Successfully proving negligence requires your attorney to establish the following four elements.
Duty of Care
Cases of wrongful death in Minnesota caused by negligence can only be brought by the surviving family if the defendant (at-fault party) owed the victim a duty of care when their death occurred. A duty of care refers to a person’s legal obligation to exercise reasonable care and avoid harming others in a preventable accident. Whether the defendant owed the victim a duty of care owed will depend on the specific circumstances of your loved one’s death and whether a reasonable person would have behaved differently in the same situation.
Proving duty of care is typically straightforward. For example, drivers owe others on the road a duty of care to drive safely and follow traffic laws. If a car accident caused your loved one’s death, your attorney will have to prove the defendant was the other driver involved. That can be done with photos of the accident scene, eyewitness testimony, security camera footage, cell phone records, medical records, etc.
As another example, medical providers such as doctors or hospitals have a legal obligation to extend the same skills, training, and care as other doctors or hospitals in their community to their patients. If your loved one’s death was due to medical malpractice, your Minneapolis personal injury attorney will only have to establish the deceased was a patient to prove there was a duty of care, which can be done with medical records.
Breach of Duty of Care
When a person fails to demonstrate the reasonable care expected of them under specific circumstances, resulting in harm, it is considered a breach of their duty of care. Different situations call for a higher or lower standard of care, so whether the defendant acted “reasonably” will often be the most highly contested issue in a wrongful death case.
Your attorney will have to prove what the standard of care was and how the defendant deviated from it. This task can be simple or complex, depending on the case. For example, if the driver who caused a death in a car accident was texting while driving, their breach of care can be proven through cell phone records. Whereas in a more complex case of medical malpractice where a physician failed to diagnose a condition, proving that harm was foreseeable can be challenging. Your attorney will have to establish that your loved one was suffering from the condition at the time they saw the physician, who then failed to diagnose and treat them appropriately.
Proximate cause involves providing evidence that the defendant’s actions or inaction was the direct cause of the death. In other words, your loved one would not have died if not for the defendant’s breach of care. For instance, your loved one would not have been killed if the driver who caused the accident had not been texting while driving. On the other hand, it would be harder to prove that an illness that resulted in your loved one’s death was caused by a physician’s failure to diagnose it early on. Proving causation will often require testimony from experts, such as a medical expert who can describe the injuries that lead to your loved one’s death.
The final element to prove in a negligence case is damages. There must be evidence that you and/or your family suffered losses—for example, medical bills from the accident that caused your loved one’s death, funeral and burial expenses, loss of expected income, loss of companionship, the deceased’s conscious pain and suffering, and more. Your attorney will gather documentation on your financial losses, such as bills and receipts, and may use witnesses to testify to the change in your quality of life, as well as hire experts, such as a forensic accountant, to calculate future lost wages.
What Is Pecuniary Loss?
As it relates to a wrongful death claim, a pecuniary loss refers to the financial expenses associated with losing a loved one due to someone else’s negligence. An insurance company or jury will consider pecuniary losses when determining a settlement or award. In addition, they will also factor in the victim’s age, life expectancy, health, income at the time of death and the amount they could have expected to make in the future, the services they provided their family, and more.