Wrongful death is a civil cause of action brought by family members and dependents against individuals who knowingly or negligently cause the death of another person. A wrongful death action may be brought against a person also facing criminal charges for the same event, and even if the person is not found guilty of a criminal charge, the person may be found liable for the wrongful death action because it has a lower burden of proof. The action is governed by state statutes which limit the damages and who can benefit from such suits. The statutes allow children and spouses to receive damages from wrongful death suits, but some states extend this to parents, siblings, and other dependents. Damages for wrongful deaths compensate for the lost financial support and suffering due to the death, and juries award damages based on a variety of factors including the person’s income beforehand, expected future income, and the level of family members dependence. Sometimes juries may award damages for funeral expenses, pain, and emotional harm caused to the person injured when they suffer before dying. Also, some states allow punitive damages to be awarded where the person causing the death does so out of intent or recklessness.
[Last updated in January of 2022 by the Wex Definitions Team]