The Difference Between a Wrongful Death Lawsuit & a Criminal Charge

A wrongful death occurs when someone is killed because of the negligence, recklessness, or wrongdoing of another party. Wrongful deaths arise from a variety of circumstances, including but not limited to:

When a wrongful death occurs, two different legal cases may be filed regarding the death:  a civil lawsuit for wrongful death and a criminal prosecution.

Wrongful Death Lawsuits vs. Criminal Prosecution

A criminal case involves a violation of one or more laws. Only the government can file a criminal charge against an individual. The charges could involve murder, homicide, or manslaughter. If the person is found guilty, he or she faces criminal penalties, including prison.

A wrongful death lawsuit is a civil matter. The lawsuit is filed by the family or the estate of the deceased. The purpose of a wrongful death lawsuit is to seek monetary compensation for the wrongful death of a family member. 

The family may receive compensation for the financial losses associated with the death, such as loss of financial support and funeral expenses. Intangible losses, such as the loss of love, support, and guidance, might also be compensated through a wrongful death lawsuit.

What If There's No Criminal Case or the Suspect is Found Innocent?

A criminal case and a wrongful death lawsuit are two separate legal matters. One case does not depend on the outcome of the other case. A person could be found innocent of criminal charges, but still be found personally liable in the civil lawsuit. 

The burden of proof in a criminal case is higher than the burden of proof in a civil case. Therefore, the government could fail to prove that the person is guilty of the criminal charges while the attorney representing the family or the estate might prove the legal requirements for a wrongful death claim.

Who Can File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?

Only certain people can file a wrongful death lawsuit. 

Under Missouri's wrongful death laws, there is a specific order for family members who may file a wrongful death claim. The surviving spouse and children have the highest priority. If the deceased did not have a spouse, children, or lineal decedents (grandchildren), the person’s parents may file a claim. The person’s siblings and their children would be the next in line to file a wrongful death lawsuit. If there is no one to file a wrongful death claim from these categories, the court may appoint a person to file a wrongful death lawsuit.

In Kansas, the laws are slightly different. Anyone who is an heir at law may file a wrongful death claim. In many cases, the surviving spouse and children file the lawsuit, but parents, siblings, and other relatives may join the lawsuit. However, the heirs must have sustained a loss to recover compensation from the lawsuit. 

Contact a Kansas City Wrongful Death Attorney for Help

Wrongful death claims are complex. Family members have a limited time to file claims. It is wise to contact a Kansas City wrongful death attorney as soon as possible to discuss a claim.

Contact The Law Office of Kevin J. McManus by calling 816-203-0143 to schedule a free consultation with a wrongful death lawyer in Kansas City.

Kevin J. McManus
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Kevin McManus is a nationally recognized personal injury and long-term disability attorney in Kansas City, MO.