Wrongful death claims seek to compensate the families of people who have suffered untimely deaths due to the mistakes of third parties. For example, if someone is killed in a car accident caused by a drunk driver, then the deceased’s family or estate administrator can file a wrongful death claim against that driver. Filing a wrongful death claim is one thing but proving that a wrongful death occurred under legal and liability standards is something else altogether.
Proving that a wrongful death happened – and not just a death – depends heavily on evidence of liability. Insurance adjusters, judges, and juries will not doubt that a death has occurred. But they will have reason to doubt that it was a death that qualifies as a wrongful death, which is how tangible evidence becomes so important.
Proof of Wrongful Deaths
What can you use to prove that your loved one suffered a wrongful death due to someone else’s mistakes? Accident reports are a great starting point, especially for any wrongful death caused by a vehicle collision. Police officers, firefighters, and EMTs can all create accident reports when responding to the scene of a crash that results in an injury or death. In those reports, there are often notes about who they think is liable for the accident. For example, police officers will usually write the party they assume to be liable in the Party 1 part of their report.
Medical records of the deceased are also incredibly useful for understanding the injuries that led to their death. A doctor’s notes can discuss the extent of the injuries, the treatments they tried, and, most importantly, what they think caused those injuries. If an autopsy was performed, then there will be even greater details about those fatal injuries that can point towards liability.
Could the Death Have Been Avoided?
An important question in any wrongful death claim is to ask if the death could have been avoided had the defendant acted in a way that a reasonable person would have. This question is also foundational to personal injury claims, except it carries much more weight when considering a wrongful death claim.
Going back to the drunk driving example, the question can be asked: “Would a reasonable person have tried to drive while intoxicated?” The answer being, of course, no, which means the drunk driving death was preventable. Because the death was preventable but occurred all the same due to negligence, it is a wrongful death by legal definition.
Questions of Contributory Negligence
In proving a wrongful death, you will want to prove that the defendant is fully liable for that death. When liability is split between the defendant and the deceased, the related wrongful death claim will become complicated due to contributory negligence rules.
Each state has different contributory negligence rules for wrongful death claims. In some states, if a claimant is just 1% liable for their own injuries or death, then the defendant cannot be held liable for damages at all. In others, a claimant can only pursue damages if they are 50% liable or less. Others still allow a plaintiff to file a wrongful death claim as long as the defendant is at least 1% liable for the death. In any situation, though, it is ideal if the defendant is found to be 100% liable.
Need Legal Help to Prove a Wrongful Death?
Ball, Kirk & Holm, P.C. in Waterloo can help you prove a wrongful death and pursue maximum damages in the name of your deceased loved one. Our law firm has been helping Iowans in need of strong legal counsel since we first opened our doors in 1958. Discover what that our caliber of legal service can do for your wrongful death claim in Iowa by contacting us today.