Law 8You may be familiar with the term wrongful death and have questioned what constitutes the legal standard for this type of determination. According to Patterson PC, wrongful death specialists, it is important to understand what constitutes a wrongful death and how such a standard differs from other types of deaths, such as accidental death, manslaughter and even murder. Having some knowledge of these terms may help you if you should ever face a situation where either you or a loved one has questions about the nature of a person’s death, and what questions you may want to ask a qualified attorney.

The Legal Definition of Wrongful Death

A wrongful death action is one that is civil, not criminal in nature. Such an action may be the result of an action brought on by the survivor or estate of a person who has died. Such an action may be brought on by an action such as negligence or misconduct committed by one person against another or a group of individuals.

The standard used to determine a wrongful death differs from that of a criminal proceeding for an action such as murder. Criminal death usually requires the prosecution to establish, beyond a reasonable doubt, that a person’s actions were the cause of death. In a civil court of law, wrongful death only requires the preponderance or wealth of evidence.

Wrongful Death Claims

Probably one of the most famous wrongful death suits brought to court was the case involving Nicole Brown-Simpson and Ronald Goldman. They were killed on June 12, 1994 near the Brentwood, California home of Ms. Brown-Simpson. Her ex-husband, former Heisman award winner and NFL player Orenthal James Simpson was subsequently arrested and charged with the murder of both his ex-wife and Mr. Goldman. In a highly publicized criminal trial that took place from January 24 ? October 3, 1995, Simpson was acquitted of all counts against him.

A civil suit was immediately filed against Simpson by the Goldman family, claiming that Simpson was responsible for the wrongful death of Brown-Simpson and Goldman. The ensuing trial took three months, during which time the jury returned a verdict that he was liable for the pair’s death. The jury awarded $8.5 million in compensatory damages to the Goldman family and $25 million in punitive damages to the families of Brown-Simpson and Goldman for a total award of $33.5 million on February 11, 1997.

Why Determining a Wrongful Death May be Important

The Brown-Simpson and Goldman civil case that resulted in a total jury award of $33.5 million against the defendant, O.J. Simpson, brought some sense of closure (although not completely) to the decedent’s survivors. Regardless of the outcome of the criminal proceedings against Mr. Simpson, the civil outcome was one that restored a sense of fairness in the legal system. Despite the fact that the families have not received nearly enough of the damages awarded them in 1997, bringing a wrongful death action was viewed as device available to the decedent’s survivors in order to satisfy their query as to the nature of Mr. Simpson’s contribution to Nicole Brown-Simpson and Ronald Goldman’s deaths.

If you believe that the death of a loved one is the result of the negligent actions of another person, you should raise these questions with experienced legal counsel. According to Patterson PC (, a lawyer who has experience in matters dealing with wrongful death can seek those answers you are looking for and determine the best approach in your pursuit of the truth regarding a loved one’s demise.