What Do You Have To Prove In A Wrongful Death Case?

When someone else's negligence results in a death, a surviving family member of the deceased might file a civil wrongful death lawsuit to recover monetary damages. In a wrongful death case, the person who filed the lawsuit — the plaintiff — must prove their case to receive damages.

Duty and Breach of Duty

The first thing you'll need to prove if you file a wrongful death lawsuit is that the defendant owed a duty of "due care" to the deceased person. For example, drivers owe other drivers on the road a duty of due care because drivers are expected to follow traffic laws and operate their vehicles as safely as possible. 

Medical doctors owe their patients a duty of due care because it's expected that they'll treat their patients in the same manner any other reasonable doctor in the same circumstances would.

Once you've proven that the defendant owed a duty to the deceased person, you must prove that the defendant breached that duty by acting negligent in some way. This can be proven by showing how the defendant did not act in a way a reasonable person in the same situation would have been expected to act.


Once you've proven that the defendant owed a duty to the deceased person and they breached that duty, you'll have to prove how that breach of duty was responsible for the deceased person's death. Proving causation can be difficult, particularly if the deceased person was sick or injured before the accident or incident that led to their death. 

Medical records, witness statements, police reports, and other paperwork related to the accident or incident can be very helpful in proving causation.

Burden of Proof

Each state has its own laws that apply to wrongful death cases, but each state requires the plaintiff to meet the burden of proof according to the state laws.

Most states require the plaintiff to prove negligence that caused the death by a preponderance of the evidence, which means the jury must believe it is more likely than not that the defendant's negligence caused the death.

This burden of proof is lower than most criminal cases where prosecutors must prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

If a loved one has been the victim of negligence or medical malpractice that resulted in wrongful death, it's best to speak with a wrongful death lawyer with experience representing clients in wrongful death cases. Most personal injury lawyers offer free or low-cost consultations.