How Do You Prove Wrongful Death?

If you lose a loved one due to the negligent or intentional actions of another individual, company, or entity in Oregon, then you may be able to recover compensation through a wrongful death lawsuit. In this state, the personal representative of the deceased’s estate is responsible for filing a wrongful death claim. However, how are wrongful death cases proven in court?

To answer this, we have to look at the four elements of negligence that must be present in order for a wrongful death claim to be successful.

1. Establishing a Duty of Care

The first step in proving a wrongful death claim is showing that the defendant (the individual accused of causing the death) owed a duty of care to the deceased.

The duty of care will look different depending on the situation at hand. For example, every driver on the roadway owes a duty of care to other drivers, passengers, and pedestrians in the vicinity. Motorists must obey traffic laws and not engage in reckless behavior such as driving while drunk behind the wheel.

However, wrongful deaths do not always revolve around vehicle accidents. Property owners, for example, also owe a duty of care to those who have a right to be on their premises. Property owners are responsible for maintaining a safe environment and fixing any known hazards.

2. Showing a Breach of Duty Occurred

After a duty of care between the defendant and the deceased has been established, it must be shown that the defendant breached the duty of care in some way. Again, this is not going to look the same for every wrongful death case in Oregon.

For example, a driver will have breached their duty of care if they operate while distracted, drunk, or with reckless disregard for the safety of others. Property owners, on the other hand, will have breached their duty of care if they knew about a hazard that could cause harm and failed to take steps to fix the problem or to warn others of the hazard.

3. Proving the Breach of Duty Caused the Injury

It is not enough to show that there was a breach of duty on the part of the defendant. In order for a wrongful death claim in Oregon to be successful, it must be proven that the breach of duty directly caused the injuries that led to the death.

Sticking with the motor vehicle examples, suppose we have a driver who was intoxicated by opioids involved in a fatal accident. The fact that a driver was intoxicated by opioids is not enough for them to be held responsible for the death. It must be shown that the intoxication caused the accident that caused the death. If the opioid intoxication led to a driver running a red light and slamming into the deceased’s vehicle, it is likely that they will be held responsible for causing the incident. However, if the intoxicated driver was not the one to cause the accident and was just involved in the overall incident, that may not be enough to prove that they were responsible for causing the death.

4. Determining Damages

The last step for a wrongful death claim is showing that the plaintiff (the personal representative of the estate and the surviving family members) suffered some sort of monetary loss as a result of the wrongful death. This can include any pre-death medical bills, funeral and burial expenses, pain and suffering damages, loss of future expected earnings, and more.

Call us today to speak with a Portland wrongful death attorney.