If you happened to catch the FX series, The People v. O.J Simpson: American Crime Story, you were probably reminded, or even learned, that O.J. Simpson was not convicted of murder, but later on was held legally responsible for the deaths of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman. How did that work? Well, there is a difference between criminal cases involving homicide and civil cases concerning wrongful deaths. Therefore, someone can be found not guilty of murder, but responsible for someone’s death in a civil suit. Let’s look a little more in depth at these differences.
Murder and Homicide
Without getting into all the differences in the types of homicide there are, we will just stick with the basic idea of murder. For someone to be found guilty of murder the prosecution has to prove “beyond a reasonable doubt” that the defendant committed this crime. “Beyond a reasonable doubt” is known as a standard of proof, and is the highest standard one has to overcome in a court of law. This makes a criminal case more difficult to prove.
Furthermore, in the case of murder, you are often looking at an intentional act, such as an intent to kill, intent to do bodily harm (resulting in death), or intent to commit a felony (resulting in death). These intentional actions are not necessarily a discussion needed with wrongful death, as it can often involve negligent actions.
Wrongful death is a statutory action that creates a limited claim for relief for certain relatives or beneficiaries of a decedent for his or her death caused by the conduct of a wrongdoer in Colorado.
Wrongful death actions could result due to careless driving which leads to death, or possibly a defective medical device that lacks proper warnings about potential side effects and causes the consumer’s death. There are many possibilities when it comes to a potential wrongful death action.
Regardless of the actions of the wrongdoer that led to the victim’s death, in a wrongful death case, the plaintiff has a standard of proof of “by a preponderance of the evidence.” This is the lowest standard of proof and what is used in civil cases, such as wrongful death lawsuits. Basically, “preponderance of evidence” means that though there may be some reasonable doubt still present, there is sufficient evidence as a whole to decide in favor of one party over the other. Therefore, it is easier to win in a wrongful death suit than it is to achieve a guilty verdict in a murder case.
A wrongful death lawsuit may provide a victim’s family recourse that they may not get from a criminal case. Regardless, losing a loved one is a very difficult thing, and if your family suffers this tragedy, you should consider all legal options.
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