Causes of Death: Wrongful Death vs Manslaughter

 

At the most basic level, death is death.  It will happen to all living creatures.  The question is only when rather than if.  Of the myriad ways people die, the legal system usually does not take an interest beyond facilitating the probate of the estate of the deceased.  When a death is caused by another, however, the law necessarily must step in, at least in some capacity.

The level of involvement of the legal system depends a great deal on the circumstances of the death.  This is where it is important to understand the difference between wrongful death and manslaughter.  The first, and for those who caused the death, the most important distinction, is that a wrongful death case is not a criminal one.  It is a civil case that is looking to compensate the survivors of the deceased by suing the person, persons, or entity that caused their loved one’s death.  In those instances, you may want a personal injury lawyer West Palm Beach, Fl residents trust. The other critical distinction is that in a wrongful death case, the death is usually a result of negligence, inaction, or indifference.

Wrongful death suits can be brought against virtually any entity or individual.  Corporations can be sued for wrongful death if the actions of the corporation resulted in a death.  Classic examples are the deaths of workers due to negligence on the part of the corporation or when a corporation’s defective product is used, the defect causes the death of an individual. An individual who causes a motor vehicle accident that results in death is a prime target of a wrongful death suit.  Regardless of the identity of the defendant, the common thread in wrongful death suits is to get compensation for the value of the life of the person who was killed and in some cases, seek further damages on behalf of the survivors of the deceased.

Manslaughter, on the other hand, is very much about the intent of the person who caused the death.  That is because manslaughter is an intentional crime meaning that the person had the intent to cause serious injury or death.  What separates manslaughter from murder is there is no premeditation, malice, or deliberation in manslaughter.  Not surprisingly, manslaughter is also solely within the domain of the criminal courts as they are uniquely equipped to handle the beyond a reasonable doubt evidentiary standard.  It is not unusual for the state to bring both manslaughter and murder charges where it is particularly difficult to tease out whether the defendant had intent and malice, or just intent.

The possible outcomes also differ greatly between wrongful death and manslaughter.  Of course, the most glaring difference is that manslaughter carries as a minimum the possibility of a conviction and some form of punishment ranging from probation to a long prison term.  Wrongful death suits, on the other hand, can at most produce a monetary award for the survivors of the deceased.  It is also questionable whether a wrongful death verdict can be used to further any criminal proceedings later on.  The burden of proof at the civil level is lesser than that of the criminal, meaning that the wrongful death verdict does not have as much value in a criminal proceeding.

Eric H. Luckman Board Certified Trial LawyerThanks to our friends and contributors from the Law Office of Eric H. Luckman, P.A., for their insight into criminal law and manslaughter.