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Wrongful Death Vs. Criminal Charges

The loss of a loved one is a devastating experience, made even more complex when contemplating legal recourse. In such situations, it’s crucial to understand the distinctions between wrongful death claims and criminal charges. While both involve the tragic loss of life, they operate within different legal frameworks, each serving a distinct purpose in seeking justice. Sometimes, you can see justice done in criminal court, punishing the perpetrator. Other times, you may demand restitution and payment of damages your family suffered due to the loss of a loved one. Our friends from Schehr Law, PLLC explain how a wrongful death case differs from a homicide case.

Wrongful Death Claims: Civil Remedy For Loss

Wrongful death claims fall under civil law and are pursued by surviving family members seeking financial compensation for the loss of their loved one. These claims typically arise when someone’s negligence, recklessness, or intentional misconduct leads to another person’s death.

Burden Of Proof And Compensation

In civil claims, the burden of proof is based on a preponderance of the evidence, meaning that the survivor must show that it is more likely than not that the defendant’s actions or negligence caused the death. Criminal charges require the prosecutor to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, a higher standard.

The primary aim of a wrongful death claim is to seek financial compensation for the losses suffered by the survivors. Wrongful death claims can be filed against individuals, companies, or entities whose actions or negligence led to the fatal incident. This could involve cases related to car accidents, medical malpractice, defective products, or workplace accidents.

Pursuing Justice Through Prosecution

Criminal charges are initiated by the state against an individual accused of committing a crime. While the legal system aims to hold perpetrators accountable for their actions, the focus is on punishment rather than financial compensation for the survivors.


The objective of criminal charges is to punish the offender through fines, probation, incarceration, or other penalties. The legal system aims to protect society and deter others from engaging in similar unlawful behavior.


Criminal charges are brought against individuals accused of committing crimes. The charges could range from manslaughter or vehicular homicide to murder, depending on the circumstances surrounding the death.

Role Of Survivors

In criminal cases, surviving family members may be witnesses for the prosecution, but they are not the primary parties seeking justice. The state assumes the role of the prosecutor, representing the public’s interest in pursuing justice. Criminal cases will not result in compensatory damages for the surviving family members.

Parallel Proceedings

It’s essential to recognize that wrongful death claims and criminal charges can coexist. The outcome of one does not dictate the result of the other. For instance, a defendant may be found not guilty in a criminal trial but still held liable in a civil wrongful death claim.While criminal prosecutions seek to punish offenders for their actions, wrongful death claims provide a pathway for survivors to seek financial compensation for the tangible and intangible losses they’ve endured. Ultimately, a comprehensive legal strategy from a wrongful death lawyer may involve pursuing both avenues to achieve a measure of justice for the grieving survivors.