What are the Legal Classifications of Death?
A murder occurs when the life of a person is taken as the result of intentional malice. A charge of murder is tried in a criminal court; it is the aim of the criminal justice system to ensure anyone guilty of homicide is prosecuted and convicted. The criminal court trying a murder case is not responsible for granting damages to the family of the deceased.
A wrongful death occurs when the life of a person is taken as the result of the intentional or unintentional wrongful conduct of another person or persons. For instance, if a combatant in a fight strikes a person in the head and that person later dies of the injuries sustained during the fight, the spouse or the decedents of the deceased can sue for wrongful death. Similarly, if a person does not enclose an in-ground swimming pool in accordance with local law and a child falls in and drowns, that person may be held liable for wrongful death. Tragic events like the Mandalay Bay Shooting can also fall in this category.
A wrongful death suit occurs separate and apart from criminal charges – the two do not affect or control the outcome of each other. A person may be cleared of murder charges but still have to face the civil action involved with wrongful death. Interestingly, while criminal courts require a high burden of proof, civil legal action only requires the accused to be 51% or more at fault.
The statues that govern wrongful death lawsuits vary from state to state. Typically, the state allows such suits to be brought forward by the spouse, the next of kin, or the children of the deceased. If the court finds that the acts or omissions of the defendant caused a natural, direct series of events that led to a person’s death, the defendant will have to pay damages to the deceased family for medical and funeral expenses, restitution for future earnings lost, and/or compensation for grief. If the death is caused by an accident, there is no one to be charged to pay damages. However, if the deceased had life insurance, the policy beneficiary will receive twice the value of the deceased’s policy from the insurance company.
Medical malpractice suits may be viable if a person sustained injuries or lost his or her life as the result of complications arising from a medical procedure or an error in medical treatment. Medical malpractice lawsuits seek compensation for medical bills and for the lost income of the injured or deceased. It should be noted that a person does not have to die to file a medical malpractice lawsuit- anyone who has suffered disability or disfigurement as the result of the actions or inactions of medical personnel can do so.
Survival action lawsuits typically occur for the same reasons as wrongful death suits. However, survival laws award damages to the estate of the deceased to compensate for the pain and suffering experienced by the deceased from the moment of injury until the time of death. If the person dies instantly, the defendant will only be responsible for damages that compensate for pain and suffering. However, if the person does not die instantly, the defendant will be responsible for pain and suffering damages as well as compensation for the lost earnings of the deceased from the time of injury until the time of death.
In contrast, wrongful death suits award compensation to the surviving kin of the deceased for the loss of financial support resulting from his or her death.
What role does negligence play in classification?
Negligence is the failure to exercise the proper amount of care to prevent harm from befalling others. Negligent actions can be difficult to prove. In general, the act is compared to what a reasonably prudent person would have done in that situation.
When a person’s death results from the negligent action of another person or group of people, a wrongful death lawsuit may be filed. If the death has been proven to be the result of negligence, murder charges will not apply. Additionally, if the death resulted from negligence, it cannot be considered an accidental death.
A doctor or healthcare professional may be liable for medical malpractice if they have exhibited medical negligence, that is to say, if the death or injury resulted from an act or omission by the medical professional that deviated from the accepted standards of care.
What are the other requirements for a death to be legally accidental?
For a death to be considered legally accidental, the death must not have been intended, expected, or foreseeable. Causes of accidental deaths can include transportation accidents (vehicular collision, a ship capsizing, airplane crash, etc.), misadventures (murder, exposure, fatal falls, work-related accidents, etc.), death in the line of duty, or drowning,
Many life insurance policies have lists of circumstances that void entitlement of the beneficiary. This can include death by non-commercial radiation, death resulting from injuries sustained in war, death resulting from injuries sustained at by an athlete during a professional sporting event, death while under the influence of alcohol or non-prescription drugs, or overdose of any toxic and/or poisonous substances.
Accidental deaths include actions deemed to be manslaughter. A person is guilty of involuntary manslaughter if he or she kills a person without malice aforethought. For instance, if a driver runs a red light and accidentally hits someone. Another example is the death of a child locked in a hot car. A person accused of voluntary manslaughter had the intention of causing serious harm but perhaps not death. These are often called ‘crimes of passion’ and can be the result of overwhelming anger, terror, or desperation.
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