Accidents are part of life, and sometimes they can have tragic results. But when an individual's negligent or intentional acts result in another's death, that person can be held liable for "wrongful death." Regardless if the victim died from murder or an accident stemming from negligence or strict liability, his or her family may claim monetary damages for their loss. And since the standard of proof for civil cases is lower than it is for criminal cases, sometimes individuals acquitted on murder charges can still be found liable for wrongful death.
While wrongful death suits involving high-profile murders often grab the headlines, most of these types of lawsuits involve motor vehicle accidents (particularly drunk driving), medical malpractice, dangerous consumer products (including pharmaceuticals), and workplace accidents (most of these resulting from work-related traffic incidents).
In addition to a wrongful death claim, the decedent's representative can also bring a survival action in order to collect damages for the benefit of the estate. A survival action is based on the pain and suffering that the decedent would have endured had he or she survived (whereas wrongful death suits are focused on the beneficiaries' loss).
Also, wrongful birth and wrongful life lawsuits allow parents of children born with serious medical problems to collect for any additional medical care, physical therapy, or personal assistance that may be required.
FindLaw's Wrongful Death section contains several valuable resources to help you better understand these types of claims (including Wrongful Death FAQ and Wrongful Death Claims: Time Limits and the Discovery Rule). Mortality Data: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) - Frequently updated statistics and data with regard to death, including the most common causes of death and infant mortality information. Consumer Product Safety Commission - Provides information on consumer product recalls and other safety resources, including information on pool safety, baby cribs, carbon monoxide, and other household causes of accidental death. Medline Plus: Injuries and Wounds - From the National Library of Medicine, alphabetically arranged resources on injuries and wounds. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration - Provides information on highway safety and fatalities, with special sections on drunk driving, distracted driving, and other key issues. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) - Comprehensive information on workplace safety, such as emergency preparedness, chemical exposure, and more. National Patient Safety Foundation - Features patient safety resources and literature, covering a wide range of medical topics, such as ways to prevent infections in hospitals and pharmacy safety. National Toxicology Program - Fact sheets, testing information, and study results regarding hazardous and toxic substances, including reports on common environmental carcinogens.
Violence Policy Center - Product Liability - Studies, fact sheets and press releases on firearms product liability, with studies and reports about gun litigation. Swimming Pools: Safety is No Accident - Special report from Consumer Affairs on the dangers of swimming pools, liability issues, and how to make your pool safer.
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