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What is a Wrongful Death Lawsuit? Wrongful Death vs. Criminal Negligent Homicide

When individuals or entities act recklessly, the result is often tragedy. If you’ve lost a loved one due to someone else’s negligence or wrongful action, it’s natural to want to seek justice and compensation. One of the best ways to do that is by pursuing a wrongful death lawsuit. But what is a wrongful death lawsuit? Furthermore, what exactly is the difference between wrongful and criminal negligent homicide?

Kiesel Law has helped countless clients hold negligent parties accountable through wrongful death claims. No one knows the ins and outs of wrongful death better than we do. Below, we’ll compare and contrast wrongful death vs. criminal negligent homicide so you can get a better idea of which one may apply to your situation.

For more expert legal information, schedule a consultation with Kiesel Law today.

What is a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?

Wrongful Death Definition

Wrongful death is a civil legal concept that allows the surviving family members or beneficiaries of a deceased person to seek compensation from the party or entity responsible for the death. It is a lawsuit filed in civil court, rather than a criminal case. Wrongful death claims typically arise from situations where someone’s negligence, intentional actions, or failure to act resulted in another person’s death.

A woman comforting a grieving friend over a wrongful death

Key Elements

To succeed in a wrongful death claim, the plaintiff (usually a surviving family member) must generally prove the following elements:

  • Duty of Care: The defendant owed a duty of care to the deceased person. This duty is typically established by demonstrating a legal relationship, such as doctor-patient, driver-passenger, or employer-employee.
  • Breach of Duty: The defendant breached their duty of care through negligent or wrongful actions, failing to meet the standard of care expected in the given circumstances.
  • Causation: The defendant’s breach of duty was a direct or proximate cause of the deceased person’s death.
  • Damages: The death resulted in financial losses, such as medical expenses, funeral costs, loss of financial support, and emotional suffering, for the surviving family members.

Objective and Outcome

The primary objective of a wrongful death lawsuit is to seek financial compensation for the losses suffered by the deceased person’s surviving family members. This compensation can include economic damages (such as medical bills and lost income) and non-economic damages (such as pain and suffering or loss of companionship). It may be obtained through either a trial ruling or an out-of-court settlement.

What is Criminal Negligent Homicide?

Criminal Homicide Definition

Criminal negligent homicide, on the other hand, is a criminal offense. It is a type of homicide charge that arises when a person’s negligent actions lead to another person’s death. Unlike wrongful death, which is a civil matter, criminal negligent homicide is prosecuted by the government in criminal court.

Key Elements

To secure a conviction for criminal negligent homicide, the prosecution typically must prove the following elements:

  • Negligence: The defendant acted with criminal negligence, which means they acted recklessly or with a gross deviation from a reasonable person’s standard of care.
  • Causation: The defendant’s negligent actions were a direct cause of the deceased person’s death.
  • Mens Rea: Criminal negligent homicide requires the prosecution to establish that the defendant acted with mens rea. This refers to a culpable mental state, such as recklessness or gross negligence, as opposed to ordinary civil negligence.

Objective and Outcome

The objective of a criminal negligent homicide case is to hold the defendant criminally accountable for their actions. If convicted, the defendant may face penalties, including incarceration, fines, probation, or other criminal sanctions. The outcome of a criminal case does not involve financial compensation for the victim’s family; instead, it focuses on punishment and deterrence.

A lawyer counseling a client about a wrongful death case

Legal Distinctions

Here are some key legal distinctions between wrongful death and criminal negligent homicide:

Nature of the Case

  • Wrongful Death: Civil lawsuit filed by surviving family members to seek compensation.
  • Criminal Negligent Homicide: Criminal charges brought by the government to seek criminal penalties.

Burden of Proof

  • Wrongful Death: The plaintiff must prove their case by a preponderance of the evidence (more likely than not).
  • Criminal Negligent Homicide: The prosecution must prove the defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, a higher standard of proof.


  • Wrongful Death: The outcome is financial compensation for the plaintiff.
  • Criminal Negligent Homicide: The outcome may involve incarceration, fines, probation, or other criminal penalties for the defendant.


  • Wrongful Death: Surviving family members or beneficiaries file the lawsuit.
  • Criminal Negligent Homicide: The government (prosecution) brings charges against the defendant.

Legal Standards

  • Wrongful Death: Generally, it relies on the concept of negligence and does not require proof of a culpable mental state beyond ordinary negligence.
  • Criminal Negligent Homicide: Requires proof of a higher degree of negligence and often involves a culpable mental state like recklessness.

Seek Justice for Wrongful Death Today

Hopefully, you now have a better idea about how to answer the question “What is a wrongful death lawsuit?” If you or someone you know is interested in pursuing a wrongful death claim, don’t wait; contact Kiesel Law today.

Our attorneys are experts in wrongful death and other forms of personal injury law. We can help you gain compensation and peace of mind. Let us put our expertise to work for you.