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What is wrongful death and what are the rights of the family?

Each year, thousands of Americans are the victims of wrongful deaths that leave their family with a great emotional and financial loss. These deaths may have a criminal and civil component that exists as separate legal entities.

As an example, let's consider a person who has been struck and killed by a drunk driver. The tragic incident is investigated by police, and the operator of the vehicle is charged with the criminal offenses of impaired driving and involuntary manslaughter. During the court proceedings, the burden of proof is to show, beyond a reasonable doubt that the driver is guilty of those criminal charges.

Beyond criminal charges, the family of the victim can bring a civil case against our hypothetical driver for damages. The family can sue the accused for compensation against lost income as well as pain and suffering. The principle difference between the criminal case and the civil suit is that the latter can be proven based on a preponderance of the evidence, rather than beyond a reasonable doubt.

Wrongful death can take on many forms and strike anywhere including fatal accidents at work, on California's roadways, medical malpractice, fatal boating accidents, drunk driving and the list goes on. The one common element to any wrongful death is negligence. A lack of attention, if only for the briefest of moments, can cause a person to lose their life and will forever impact the lives of their family. While no amount of compensation could replace a loved one, civil suits often provide some modicum of peace and closure.

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