Legal Terms in Simple Language: 4 Elements of Wrongful Death

Has the death of a loved one occurred unexpectedly? Do you suspect that your loved one would still be alive today if not for the actions – or inaction – of someone else? If so, you may want to look into beginning a wrongful death suit.

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If the person you feel is to blame has been charged by authorities, a civil wrongful death suit will likely follow their state or federal trial. If they’ve not been charged, you can still bring a suit. Here are four key terms to understand before you get started.

Breach of Duty

Breach of duty indicates that someone else had a duty to uphold, and not doing so resulted in the death. A crucial part of a case will be convincing courts that the other party had a duty which they did not perform; a duty that someone else in their situation would have upheld.

For doctors, it may be found that they had a duty to perform a specific treatment and failed to do so. A motorist who caused an accident may have had a duty to drive within the speed limit and stay in their lane.


To embed breach of duty in wrongful death claims, it must be supported by causation. Once it has been verified that the party being sued has failed to do a duty, we establish that their lack of duty performed is directly responsible for the death.

Other factors in the case can make causation difficult to apply. With car accident deaths, additional cars striking the victim in the crash can complicate causation. In medical deaths, additional medical conditions, patient history, and more can make causation tough to pin on a treating physician.


Once breach of duty and causation are in place, the damages can be assessed. Damages are a sum of money awarded to the estate of the person who passed away. In many cases, when damages are awarded, they include interest, or back pay, dating back to the person’s death.

The damages, as well as the bringing of the suit itself, can only be awarded to a designated beneficiary, which is usually an immediate family member, such as a spouse, child, or parent. If these do not apply, more distant relatives, like grandparents and grandchildren may qualify, as well as a domestic partner or those who depend on the deceased financially.

Pecuniary Loss

To determine the amount of damages to be awarded, pecuniary loss needs to be assessed. This is the dollar amount placed on each type of loss. First, the age and health status of the lost loved one will be taken into account.

The loss of their income and the impact of this on partners and dependents is tallied. Emotional damages, such as loss of guidance when a parent leaves children behind, is also a pecuniary loss.

It goes without saying that losing a loved one is incredibly difficult. During this very trying time, finding clarity about the event is something you shouldn’t unnecessarily burden yourself with, or at least attempt to tackle alone. Contact a qualified attorney as soon as possible to determine whether or not you have a potential wrongful death lawsuit on your hands.



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Hi, I'm Dale. Some of the things I like to do are box, lift weights, and spend time with my beautiful wife Crystal. I also enjoy watching shows on Netflix or playing video games with my son when I can find some free time.

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