wrongful death

Primary tabs

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. This type of claim allows the surviving family members or beneficiaries to seek compensation for the losses and damages resulting from the decedent’s death. Wrongful death actions can be pursued against a person also facing criminal charges for the same event, and even if the person is not found guilty of a criminal charge, they may still be found liable for wrongful death due to the lower burden of proof in civil court. Governed by state statutes, these actions limit the damages and specify who can benefit from such suits, typically including children and spouses, but sometimes extending to parents, siblings, and other dependents.

Damages for wrongful deaths compensate for the lost financial support and suffering due to the death, with juries awarding damages based on various factors such as the deceased’s income before death, expected future income, and the level of dependence of family members. Compensation may also cover funeral expenses, pain, and emotional harm caused to the person injured before dying. In some states, punitive damages may be awarded if the death was caused by intentional or reckless actions. 

[Last updated in July of 2024 by the Wex Definitions Team]