Can the Family of a Murder Victim File a Wrongful Death Suit?

Posted by Randy Andrus | Sep 21, 2022

Families of murder victims often ask if they have grounds to file a wrongful death claim in civil court. The answer is often yes. The families of murder victims or manslaughter victims may have the option to pursue justice in criminal court as well as civil court, depending on the circumstances. A popular example of this is the OJ Simpson case. While he was found not guilty in criminal court, he was sued in civil court where he ultimately lost the case and was ordered to pay $33.5 million in damages to the Goldman family.

If your loved one had his or her life taken at the hands of another, you may be able to file a wrongful death action or a survival action. To discuss the specifics of your case and legal options, call Andrus Law Firm at 801-535-4645 today to set up your confidential consultation. You may, alternatively, fill out our convenient and secure online form here

How Does a Wrongful Death Case Differ from a Murder Case?

A murder or manslaughter case is brought by the government. It's tried in criminal court, meaning the burden of proof is significant. To convict a defendant in criminal court, the case must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. However, a wrongful death claim or survival action is filed in civil court where the burden of proof is much smaller. In civil court, plaintiffs must show that the defendant “more likely than not” committed the allegations outlined within the civil claim, causing harm and damages to the complainants. Even if a defendant isn't convicted in criminal court beyond a reasonable doubt, a civil claim may provide civil recourse for the family of the victim. 

The intention of a criminal trial is to convict the defendant of charges. However, the intention of a wrongful death claim is to help the family recover from financial, psychological, and emotional losses sustained as a result of the wrongful death of their loved one. These damages may include funeral costs, loss of companionship, loss of income, burial expenses, loss of love, loss of financial support, etc. 

To recap, the differences between a murder case and a wrongful death claim are:

  • A murder case is tried in criminal court
  • A wrongful death claim is filed in civil court
  • The burden of proof in a criminal case is “beyond a reasonable doubt”
  • The burden of proof in a civil case is a preponderance of the evidence, meaning that the plaintiff must prove that the defendant “more likely than not” committed the actions stated in the claim
  • The government files murder charges, not the family
  • The family or heirs of the deceased may file wrongful death claims
  • Murder cases seek convictions, fines, and jail time
  • Wrongful death claims seek damages (compensation for the plaintiff)

Wrongful Death Claims Vs Survival Actions

When a loved one is murdered, the family may have two available legal options in civil court: a wrongful death claim and a survival action. 

Wrongful death claims are filed against a defendant who has negligently or intentionally caused the death of another person. This claim allows the victim's loved ones to file a lawsuit against the liable person(s) in order to seek legal remedy to recover financial and emotional injuries that resulted from the inciting incident. Utah's Wrongful Death Act, § 78B-3-106.

On the other hand, A survival action can take the place of a personal injury suit that the deceased person may have filed had she/he survived. Utah Code § 78B-3-107. It is the wrongful death lawyer's job to prove the same facts he would have had to prove in a personal injury suit. The survival action may be brought at the same time as the wrongful death action. 

Should I File a Lawsuit If the Murderer Is Convicted?

If the perpetrator is convicted of the murder, he or she will be charged and sentenced as punishment for his or her crime. However, after the trial, families may continue to suffer financially and emotionally due to the loss of their loved one. This is where civil lawsuits come in. While the criminal court may bring families a sense of justice for their loved one, it will not take care of the losses they have suffered due to the death. A civil lawsuit may give families the opportunity to collect damages from the perpetrator to facilitate some financial recovery.  

The Elements of a Wrongful Death Claim and Utah Law 

Often families of murder victims can file a wrongful death claim. However, sometimes, the elements needed to file the claim do not exist. The necessary elements include:

  1. The death of the deceased must have been caused by the negligence or intentional misconduct of another person 
  2. Financial injuries must be present for the surviving loved ones as a result of the action that led to the death of the deceased
  3. A personal representative must be appointed to represent the deceased family member's estate

It's important to consult a knowledgeable wrongful death lawyer to know if your case meets these standards. Don't assume that these elements exist or don't exist in your specific case. An attorney will help you confirm if you have a case and guide and advise you through the entire process of seeking compensation and justice. 

Similarly, Utah law states who is allowed to file a case on the deceased's behalf. Utah Code § 78B-3-105.

  1. The decedent's spouse;
  2. The decedent's children as provided in Section 75-2-114;
  3. The decedent's natural parents; or
  4. If the decedent was adopted, the decedent's adoptive parents;
  5. The decedent's stepchildren who:
    1. are younger than 18 years old at the time of decedent's death; and
    2. received financial support from the decedent at the time of decedent's death; or resided with the decedent on at least a part-time basis at the time of the decedent's death
  6. Any blood relative as provided by the law of intestate succession if the decedent is not survived by any of the above persons

Consult Our Wrongful Death Lawyer

Losing a loved one is hard, especially when their life was taken at the hands of someone else. Not only does emotional hardship make it difficult for the surviving loved ones to cope, but financial strain can add another level of stress and overwhelm to hurting families. Know that you may have legal options to help ease these burdens. We're standing by to answer your questions and help you get through this. Call us at 801-535-4645 to set up a consultation with our trusted and experienced wrongful death lawyer, Randy Andrus. You may also fill out this secure online form to request a consultation. 

Please note that our website content is intended for general information purposes only. It is not intended to serve as legal advice. For specific legal guidance, we recommend that you contact Andrus Law Firm today.

About the Author

Randy Andrus

BIO   Education University of the Pacific, McGeorge School of Law (LL.M. 1987) Business and Taxation – Transnational Practice Courses and International Bar Association Convention, Salzburg, Austria Southwestern University School of Law (J.D. 1984) Dean's List American Jurisprudence...

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