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What Happens in a Wrongful Death Trial: Key Steps Explained

A wrongful death trial unfolds when the negligent or intentional actions of a person or entity result in someone’s death, prompting surviving family members to seek justice. These trials are different from criminal homicide cases, focusing on providing financial compensation rather than punishing the offender. During the trial, the burden of proof lies with the plaintiff, who must demonstrate that the defendant’s actions directly caused the death. Engaging a Portland wrongful death attorney can be crucial in navigating the complexities of such cases and ensuring that the family’s interests are adequately represented.

Wrongful death law is complex, and having competent guidance from legal experts is crucial to navigate the intricacies of the case. The plaintiff’s side typically presents evidence and witnesses to establish negligence or wrongful conduct, while the defense may counter with arguments and evidence to refute the claims. Understanding these legal requirements is essential for anyone involved in such a trial.

Each wrongful death trial is unique, driven by the specific facts and legal claims involved. Family members pursue these cases not only for compensation but also to achieve a sense of closure and accountability. The courtroom becomes a battleground for establishing the truth and ensuring that justice is served for the deceased.

Fundamentals of Wrongful Death Lawsuits

A wrongful death lawsuit is initiated when an individual dies due to the negligence or misconduct of another person or entity. These cases allow surviving family members to seek compensation for their loss.

Key elements in a wrongful death lawsuit include:

  • Duty of Care: The defendant owed a legal duty to the decedent.
  • Breach of Duty: The defendant breached that duty through action or inaction.
  • Causation: The breach directly caused the decedent’s death.
  • Damages: Survivors suffered quantifiable losses due to the death.

Liability in these cases can involve individuals or entities, such as corporations.

Negligent actions, intentional harm, or criminal conduct are common grounds.

Legal actions for wrongful death are governed by state law. This means the statute of limitations — the time frame to file a lawsuit — varies by state. So you want to make sure you are working with an expert in your area such as a wrongful death lawyer in Philadelphia.

Proof in these cases relies on the preponderance of the evidence standard, meaning the plaintiff must show that it is more likely than not that the defendant’s actions resulted in the death.

Potential damages include:

  • Economic: Medical bills, funeral expenses, lost income.
  • Non-economic: Pain and suffering, loss of companionship.

Plaintiffs in wrongful death cases often include immediate family members, such as spouses, children, and, in some states, parents.

A representative of the decedent’s estate may also pursue the claim.

Important Entities:

  1. Plaintiff: The party filing the lawsuit.
  2. Defendant: The party being sued.
  3. Decedent: The deceased individual.
  4. Survivors: Family members impacted by the death.

Both civil lawsuits and personal injury lawsuits intersect with wrongful death claims, focusing on holding responsible parties accountable and providing restitution for affected families. Multiple types of compensation are sought to alleviate the impacts on surviving family members and ensure justice is served.

Trial Procedures and Evidentiary Considerations

In a wrongful death trial, the process begins with jury selection. Lawyers for each side question potential jurors to ensure an impartial jury.

Once the trial starts, the burden of proof rests on the plaintiff, typically a personal representative of the deceased person. They must demonstrate that the defendant’s actions caused the death.

Evidence presented can include medical bills, photographs, expert opinions, and witness testimony. This evidence helps establish the cause of death and any associated economic and noneconomic damages.

Economic damages might cover loss of income, future earnings, and medical expenses. Noneconomic damages can address pain and suffering, emotional distress, and loss of companionship.

During the trial, both sides call on experts and witnesses to support their claims. The plaintiff may present testimony on the decedent’s age, earning potential, and the impact on survivors.

The defense will also present its case, often challenging the burden of proof or offering alternative explanations for the death.

Throughout the civil action, proper procedures and evidentiary considerations are crucial. Adhering to court rules and organizing the lawsuit systematically can influence the outcome significantly.

The jury then deliberates and renders a verdict based on the evidence and testimony presented during the trial. If the jury finds in favor of the plaintiff, they may award damages to the decedent’s estate and survivors.

Calculating and Awarding Damages

In a wrongful death trial, various types of damages may be awarded to compensate for the loss. These damages can be categorized into economic and noneconomic damages.

Economic damages refer to the financial losses suffered by the surviving family members. These include:

  • Loss of income: Compensation for the deceased’s future earnings.
  • Medical expenses: Costs incurred due to the wrongful act.
  • Funeral and burial expenses: Covering funeral and burial costs.
  • Loss of financial support: Support the deceased provided to their family.

Noneconomic damages focus on the subjective, non-financial impact. These include:

  • Pain and suffering: Emotional distress experienced by the family.
  • Loss of consortium: Loss of companionship and relationships.
  • Value of life: The deceased’s life value for family members.

In some cases, punitive damages may be awarded. These aim to punish egregious behavior and deter similar acts in the future. The amount varies based on the severity of the wrongful act.

Factors influencing compensation include:

  • Degree of negligence: How negligent the defendant was.
  • Life expectancy: The deceased’s remaining life years.
  • Interest: Accrued interest on awarded damages.

Surviving family members or their lawyer calculate and present these damages during the trial. Courts assess and determine the final compensation, guided by state laws and the specific circumstances of the wrongful death claim.

A comprehensive settlement may include both economic and noneconomic damages, as well as punitive damages, ensuring fair compensation for the loss suffered.

Post-Trial Considerations

Following a wrongful death trial, parties may need to address several post-trial considerations. These steps can include post-trial motions, appeals, and negotiations concerning the verdict.

Post-Trial Motions

A party may file a notice of intention to move for a new trial within a specific timeframe, generally within 15 days after the judgment notice is served. This notice must outline all grounds for the motion and any supporting documents.


The defense or plaintiff might appeal the trial’s outcome if they believe errors affected the verdict. Appeals require careful preparation and presentation of legal arguments to higher courts.

Settlement Negotiations

There could be further negotiations aimed at reaching a wrongful death settlement. Even after a trial, parties might prefer to settle, leading to financial compensation without prolonged legal battles.

Impact on Defendants

Post-trial, the defendants might face criminal charges if the wrongful death involved criminal acts such as homicide or manslaughter. This can lead to additional penalties along with civil liabilities.

Estate and Financial Dependents

The estate of the deceased and their financial dependents (spouses, children, parents) might need to address the distribution of any awarded compensation. This ensures support for those who relied financially on the decedent.

Additional Considerations

Legal representatives of the deceased, such as a personal representative or estate executor, may need to manage funds and comply with any legal requirements. Addressing these matters ensures that the deceased’s family receives due companionship and support in a structured manner.