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Is Wrongful Death Civil or Criminal?

Published on Aug 25, 2023 at 10:32 pm in Wrongful Death.

Is Wrongful Death Civil or Criminal
Most of us take for granted that our loved ones will be with us until later in life. That’s why coping with the unexpected, premature death of a loved one can be so challenging to cope with.

It’s understandable that you would want the party that caused your relative’s untimely death held accountable to the fullest extent possible for their actions that resulted in your loved one’s demise. You may wonder what legal options Louisiana law affords you if a preventable accident resulted in the passing of someone close to you, and that’s what we’ll address below.

How Louisiana Law Defines Wrongful Death

Louisiana Civil Code Article 2315.2 is our state’s wrongful death law. It clearly states that a wrongful death is an instance in which an individual loses their life “due to the fault of another.”

Some common examples of situations that often result in another person’s wrongful death include:

  • Defective or dangerous product situations
  • Physical assaults
  • Workplace accidents
  • Motor vehicle accidents
  • Attractive nuisances and other dangerous property situations
  • Medical malpractice

What Legal Options Do Surviving Family Members Have in Wrongful Death Scenarios?

Before answering this question, it’s imperative to clearly understand the basics of how our Louisiana legal system works.

There’s a criminal and a civil legal system in our state.

Prosecutors, who are most commonly referred to as district attorneys in Louisiana, are the ones who try criminal cases against defendants.

Private individuals, known as plaintiffs, file civil lawsuits like personal injury or wrongful death ones. Individuals eligible to file wrongful death claims on behalf of their deceased loved ones vary. Generally, the order in which family members can file a wrongful death claim begins as follows:

  • The decedent’s surviving spouse (if married)
  • The decedent’s children (if they have any)
  • The decedent’s surviving parents (if they’re still alive)
  • The decedent’s surviving siblings (if they have any)

Criminal charges don’t have to be levied against a defendant, which is the person who is alleged to have caused your loved one’s death, for you to be eligible to file a civil claim or vice versa since the two systems function independently from one another.

That said, the district attorney’s office can pursue criminal charges against a defendant, whereby they may face incarceration and fines if convicted. At the same time, you can file a civil action alleging a defendant’s negligence caused your loved one’s wrongful death and seek damages in the form of monetary compensation.

When Might a Defendant Face Criminal Charges Following a Wrongful Death?

It should be noted that anytime it can be proven that someone else’s negligence resulted in your loved one’s preventable death it may warrant filing a civil wrongful death claim. However, that same logic doesn’t apply when prosecutors decide to file criminal cases.

Wrongful death is a concept specifically used in the civil court system. In the criminal court system, a person would likely face manslaughter or sometimes murder charges for gross negligence resulting in someone else’s wrongful death.

Examples of situations where a wrongful death may result in a defendant facing manslaughter or even murder charges include:

  • A nurse gives a patient the wrong medication, resulting in their passing
  • An intoxicated or recklessly driving motorist strikes a pedestrian
  • An amusement park ride operator doesn’t check to make sure riders’ harnesses are properly fastened before turning it on, and someone falls to their death
  • A trucker knows that their brakes have long needed replacing, they fail, and they make no effort to steer clear of another motorist when they do, thus causing a deadly chain-reaction crash

These are just some of many examples we could list that capture instances that would almost certainly allow a decedent’s surviving family members to file a wrongful death claim in Louisiana and likely prove district attorneys to also file criminal charges. In both instances, the goal of doing so would be to punish reckless behavior and to serve as a deterrent to others who may do the same.

Financial Penalties as Deterrents in Louisiana Wrongful Death and Criminal Cases

While we’re on the topic of deterring future negligence, it’s important to note that while monetary awards in the form of economic and noneconomic damages are recoverable in Louisiana wrongful death cases, there are also punitive damages that a judge may award in a wrongful death civil suit too.

While the award of punitive damages is rare, Courts often will impose these additional monetary awards in cases where they believe that the harm the defendant inflicted was notably grossly negligent. One common instance in which judges impose such damages is in fatal drunk driving accident cases.

As for criminal cases like manslaughter or murder ones, a criminal court judge may order a defendant to pay restitution when handing down their sentencing. Information compiled by the National Crime Victim Law Institute (NCVLI) specifies how Louisiana Victims’ Rights Laws allow surviving members of homicide victims to receive restitution, which is economic remuneration, from a defendant convicted of their death when a judge orders such payments.

So, as you can likely tell, there may be some scenarios in which surviving family members of a deceased individual may be able to file a civil suit to recover economic, noneconomic, and punitive damages, and a criminal judge also orders that the responsible party remit restitution payments to them.

How an Attorney Provides Assistance in Louisiana Wrongful Death Cases

Personal injury lawyers like ours at Bianca | Matkins don’t typically also handle criminal law cases. Even if we did, it’s the role of the district attorney to press upon a judge the importance of instituting restitution in a criminal law case. What we do have extensive experience with here at our Baton Rouge law firm is advocating for the rights of those who have lost their lives way too soon. This concept is often called victims’ rights from a criminal law perspective.

The combined decades of experience our wrongful death attorneys at Bianca | Matkins bring to the table can be extremely valuable when trying to secure maximum compensation in a personal injury case like this through negotiations with insurance adjusters or in a courtroom. You can also count on us having answers or being able to point you in the right direction if questions regarding criminal cases and procedures and your rights within those as a surviving family member of the victim arise.

You’ve been through a lot already, and navigating the legal process all alone can be emotionally taxing and yield unsatisfying returns. A Baton Rouge wrongful death lawyer from our office can take the reins for you, handling all communication and negotiating hard for just compensation.

Scheduling a free initial consultation with an attorney from our law firm is free, as is our representation of you, unless we recover a settlement in your case. So, reach out to us now to discuss the events leading up to your loved one’s passing so we can get to work pursuing justice the only way our Louisiana civil legal system allows one to do in your case.

Free Case Review

Call us or fill out the form below to schedule a free and confidential case evaluation where we’ll hear your story and help you understand your legal options, advising you on what steps you can take next. If we can help with the next steps required, we will be happy to do so.

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