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How to Determine Negligence in a Wrongful Death Claim

Posted on 10/01/22

If you experience the tragic loss of a loved one in a preventable accident, you may be able to seek financial compensation through a wrongful death lawsuit in New York. Before you can recover compensation, however, you must meet the burden of proof. The burden of proof is an evidentiary standard that must be met or satisfied by the plaintiff (the filing party) to win a wrongful death claim. The vast majority of wrongful death cases in New York are based on the legal theory of negligence.

What Is the Definition of Negligence?

Negligence means that a person or party failed to exercise adequate or reasonable care for a situation, such as a driver failing to pay enough attention to the road and causing a fatal car accident. Every circumstance comes with an expectation that those involved will use an appropriate level of care to prevent harm or injury to others. If someone commits an act or omission that falls short of the required level of care, it is negligence. When negligence leads to fatal injuries or illnesses, it can become the grounds for a wrongful death claim in New York.

What Are the Four Elements of Negligence?

If you file a wrongful death lawsuit on the basis of negligence, it becomes you or your lawyer’s responsibility to prove negligence based on a preponderance of the evidence. This is the evidentiary standard used in the civil justice system. It is not as strict as the burden of proof in a criminal case (“proof beyond a reasonable doubt”). Instead, it requires proof that the defendant is “more likely than not” responsible for the decedent’s fatal injury or illness.

Proving negligence in a fatal accident claim in Buffalo requires clear and convincing evidence of four key elements:

  1. Duty of care – a legal or ethical requirement to exercise reasonable care. The duty of care that a defendant owed to a decedent depends on the circumstances. A doctor, for example, has high standards of care imposed by the medical industry when it comes to treating patients.
  2. Breach of duty – any action, behavior or omission that a reasonable and prudent party would not have committed under the same or similar circumstances. A breach of duty can refer to an act committed out of negligence, carelessness, recklessness or malicious intent to harm.
  3. Causation – a cause-and-effect connection between the defendant’s breach of the duty of care and the fatal accident. There must be evidence that the death most likely would not have occurred were it not for the defendant’s breach of duty.
  4. Damages – proof of compensable losses suffered by the person or party that is bringing the cause of action. Without specific losses attached to a defendant’s negligence, a plaintiff will not have grounds to file a wrongful death claim in New York.

If you are not sure whether your loved one’s death was caused by another person’s negligence in New York, you can contact an attorney to investigate. A lawyer can examine the incident, interview eyewitnesses, gather evidence and information, identify the defendant(s), and file a wrongful death claim on your family’s behalf. Then, your lawyer can help you prove the defendant’s negligence using all of the evidence available.

How Do You Prove Negligence in a Wrongful Death Claim?

Meeting the burden of proof in a wrongful death lawsuit in New York requires compelling evidence. An insurance company or judge will need clear and convincing evidence that the defendant is responsible for the decedent’s death with at least a 51 percent likelihood to award financial compensation.

Evidence that is often submitted to support a wrongful death claim are accident reports, autopsy reports, medical records, police reports, photographs and video footage, signed eyewitness statements, and expert testimony. For assistance determining and proving negligence during your wrongful death case in New York, contact an experienced Buffalo injury attorney at Towey Law, PLLC.