What Are the Differences between a Criminal Case and a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?

Whenever a person dies, their family is left with grief and emotional turmoil. The pain is even worse when the death was caused by someone’s negligent actions. For a Union City wrongful death attorney, the situation is clear. The liable party owes compensation to the deceased’s family at the end of a wrongful death lawsuit.

But grieving relatives do not have to wait until the state of Georgia initiates a criminal case against the wrongdoer. There is no need for a criminal case to be eligible to file a wrongful death lawsuit.

Since there is such widespread confusion about the potential connection between the two legal cases, Attorney Gil will discuss them in detail here. Knowledge is power – and in the legal field, correct knowledge is essential.

What Exactly Is a Wrongful Death Lawsuit in Georgia?

A wrongful death lawsuit is a civil action. It is filed by the surviving relatives of a person who died as a result of another person’s breach of duty of care. Thus, wrongful death cases are based on the principles of the personal injury tort.

The purpose of the lawsuit is to compensate the family for the economic and non-economic damages caused by their loved one’s death. There is no need to prove criminal intent in causing the death.

A Union City wrongful death attorney only has to prove:

  • That the defendant owed a duty of care to the deceased person.
  • That the defendant breached their duty of care and caused an accident.
  • That the deceased person lost their life as a result of the accident.
  • That this death caused economic damages to the deceased’s family.

These Are the Key Differences between a Criminal Case and a Wrongful Death Lawsuit

There are significant differences between a criminal and a civil case in Georgia. The main thing you must remember is that they are independent of one another. Thus, you may file a wrongful death lawsuit even if the state does not pursue criminal charges against the person who caused your loved one’s death.

For better clarification, these are the elements that make the difference between a wrongful death lawsuit and the criminal trial for someone charged with manslaughter or murder:

1. Different Laws Apply to Each Type of Case

Criminal cases for the unlawful taking of someone’s life are governed by the Official Code of Georgia Title 16 Chapter 5-1 – Homicide. These crimes are categorized as:

  • Murder
  • Voluntary manslaughter
  • Involuntary manslaughter
  • Assisted suicide.

By contrast, a wrongful death lawsuit is brought on the grounds of the Official Code of Georgia 51-4-2, part of the larger chapter dealing with Torts. There is no classification of the wrongdoer as per the statute referring to homicide cited above. The defendant’s guilt is strictly related to negligence.

2. The Parties Who Can File a Case

In all US states, criminal cases are brought by prosecutors acting on behalf of the government. No individual can file criminal charges against another person. The victim’s family, however, has the right to attend any court sessions, under the provisions of Georgia Victims’ Rights Laws.

On the other hand, a wrongful death lawsuit can be filed only by specific relatives of the deceased person:

  • The surviving spouse
  • The surviving children, including those born outside a marriage
  • The parents, if there is no surviving spouse or children
  • The representative of the estate when none of the above-mentioned relatives exist.

wrongful death lawsuit concept, funeral

3. The Degree of Proof Necessary to Obtain a Favorable Verdict

Criminal cases end with a sentence of imprisonment for many years. A wrongful death lawsuit ends with a monetary award to be paid by the defendant. There is a huge difference in the impact of the outcomes of the two legal actions on the defendant’s life.

For this reason, the burden of proof is significantly different in each case. In a criminal case, the prosecutor must prove the defendant’s guilt beyond any reasonable doubt. What does this mean? It means that any reasonable person, looking at the evidence, would be fully convinced of their guilt.

On the other hand, a Union City wrongful death attorney must bring a preponderance of the evidence against the defendant. This means that the defendant is more likely than not to be responsible for the person’s death.

4. The Penalties for a Defendant

As mentioned above, a person found guilty of murder or manslaughter is likely to receive a long prison sentence, fines, and other penalties. On the other hand, the verdict in a wrongful death lawsuit will result in a monetary penalty that the defendant must pay to the plaintiff.

There will be no jail sentence for a defendant who was found liable in a wrongful death lawsuit and nothing will be written in their criminal record.

5. The Statute of Limitations

Finally, the last difference – and a very important one for the victim’s family – between a criminal and civil case is the statute of limitations. In murder cases, there is no statute of limitations – as shown by many cold cases leading to convictions decades after the deed.

For manslaughter, the statute of limitations is 7 years after the crime was committed.

However, the victim’s family has only 2 years to file a personal injury lawsuit against the person responsible for their loved one’s death. And this is the most important reason why you should never wait until the authorities file criminal charges if they do at all.

Will a Criminal Conviction Automatically Lead to a Jury Award in a Lawsuit?

Since the two legal cases are completely different, you cannot use a criminal conviction for murder or manslaughter as the only evidence in a wrongful death lawsuit. You will still need to rely on an experienced Union City wrongful death attorney to obtain the relevant evidence and present it in court.

The jury will take into account a criminal conviction, but they also need to follow the rules of tort law to justify their decision.

Let a Compassionate Union City Wrongful Death Attorney Handle Your Case!

Gilbert Sperling, III, P.C. knows that a family who contacts his law offices for assistance in a wrongful death case is going through the worst moments possible. They have to deal with grief, unanswered questions, anger, and financial burdens.

A Union City wrongful death attorney knows that no amount of money can bring your loved one back. But the money can help pay for funeral and burial costs and shelter your family from financial difficulties in the coming months and years.

We are experienced, dedicated, and compassionate in talking with surviving family members and handling a wrongful death lawsuit. So, trust us to obtain the best possible result in this terrible situation for you and the rest of your family!

Contact us today for a free case review!