Empty bench on a hill

What is the Difference Between Wrongful Death & Accidental Death?

When someone passes away in an accident, it is always tragic and heartbreaking for their loved ones. But it is not always grounds to start a claim or lawsuit against other parties involved. Whether an untimely death is considered an accidental death or wrongful death will make a big difference in any legal processes that follow.

Accidental Death Compared to Wrongful Death

An accidental death is a death caused by an accident, but no one is necessarily to blame. As such, there are no criminal charges for the death and no valid grounds to file a civil claim. For example, if a bicyclist was riding on a mountain trail that they knew could be dangerous due to landslides, and they were hit by a falling rock and passed away, then the death would be accidental. There are no criminal charges to file and the landowner – in this case, likely a municipality – probably couldn’t be sued because the bicyclist knew about the naturally-occurring hazards and still chose to ride there.

A wrongful death is a death caused by an accident that could have been avoided had the liable party or parties been more careful. Wrongful deaths can be answered with criminal charges, wrongful death claims, or both. For example, a drunk driver hits another motorist, resulting in a fatal car accident for the victim. The drunk driver can be criminally charged for driving while intoxicated and vehicular manslaughter. The surviving family members of the victim can file a claim against the drunk driver for financial damage and, if the claim is unsuccessful, can take them to court through a lawsuit.

Damages in a wrongful death claim vary from state to state, but can include:

  • Final medical expenses
  • Wages the deceased would have earned in life
  • Pain and suffering experienced by the deceased
  • Emotional trauma endured by the surviving family members

How Do You Know If You Can File a Wrongful Death Claim?

Can you file a wrongful death claim after the untimely passing of a loved one? It depends on whether their death is considered accidental or wrongful. If there have been criminal charges filed against the other party involved in the accident, then there is a good chance that the death is wrongful.

In other situations, it will not be as clear, though. There are situations in which an accident involving more than one person happens, but no one is necessarily to blame for it. A death in such a case might be accidental or wrongful, it all depends on the finest details.

For help determining if you can file a wrongful death claim after losing a loved one, talk to a local wrongful death attorney. Ball, Kirk & Holm, P.C. offers such services here in Waterloo. Contact us today if you have questions for our legal team.

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