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The difference between a criminal homicide and wrongful death

On Behalf of | Jun 2, 2023 | Wrongful Death

When someone you love dies due to another person’s negligent, reckless or intentional actions, it’s understandably distressing – and you want justice.

A criminal homicide case and a wrongful death claim are two different routes for obtaining that justice for your loved one. Understanding the difference can help you better approach the situation and make it easier to decide your next steps.

What’s a criminal homicide claim?

A criminal homicide claim is one that is pursued by the state or federal authorities against a defendant over the death of another. In West Virginia, that might include voluntary and involuntary manslaughter charges or some degree of murder.

Essentially, the authorities must feel that the party responsible for someone’s death either behaved so recklessly that their disregard for the safety of others rises to criminal levels or that they acted intentionally in some way.

If convicted, the defendant will likely face severe penalties, including the loss of their freedom, but the prosecution must prove their case “beyond a reasonable doubt,” and that burden of proof is sometimes difficult to meet.

What’s a wrongful death claim?

In comparison, a wrongful death is a civil claim, like any other personal injury claim, so it can be pursued on the idea that the defendant caused the victim’s death through ordinary negligence. In addition, the claim is brought by the personal representative of the deceased’s estate, as appointed by the court, not the authorities.

If the plaintiff wins their case, the defendant will only suffer financial penalties in the form of a judgment against them – so the burden of proof to win the claim is much lower. The plaintiff only has to prove that the defendant “more likely than not” was responsible for the victim’s death.

A successful claim can result in compensation that ultimately benefits the victim’s loved ones. This can ultimately help the victim’s survivors regain their financial footing, and it can feel like a measure of justice was obtained.

If you have lost your loved one and you’re unsure about what legal options you have, it may be time to seek legal guidance in order to learn more.