The term “wrongful death” generally refers to a lawsuit that is filed in civil court between the family of a victim and the person they believe to be responsible for the victim’s death. A wrongful death can be defined as either negligent or unjust, with the actions of one leading to the death of another. For example, if the passenger of a motor vehicle is killed in an accident, the driver of the other car or even the car the passenger was riding in could be held responsible for wrongful death, depending on the cause of the accident. An example of an unjust wrongful death would be an act of violence or murder. Other examples of wrongful death include medical malpractice, product liability, and workplace negligence.

A wrongful death lawsuit is different from a negligence lawsuit because the latter is a case that is filed by the victim. Under common law, a deceased victim is unable to file a lawsuit against anyone, so a member of the victim’s immediate family is typically the person who files a wrongful death case. Both negligent and intentional acts could result in liability in wrongful death cases.

Wrongful death cases differ from state to state, however they are all the same in principle. The accused party will have behaved in a way or committed an act that caused the victim’s death, or the defendant would have behaved in a negligent manner that led to the victim’s death. The victim is survived by a spouse, family members or dependents and there are grounds for a monetary settlement. A settlement will generally be awarded for medical and funeral expenses, as well pain and suffering and loss of financial support.


The U.S. Department of Justice has reported over the past several years that 90 percent of all lawsuits involving medical malpractice have involved a wrongful death or a permanent disability caused by negligence. In 2006, the Institute of Medicine reported that one of the most common occurrences of medical practice is prescription errors, as in the use of wrong medicines or the overuse of other medicines. Medication errors affect more than 1.5 million people annually.

In 2008, the U.S. Department of Transportation reported that the highway wrongful death count was at 37,261 nationwide, which was down from 2007. The accident fatality rate also showed a decrease of seven percent from 2007 as well.

The CDC, reported that prescription drug deaths shot up 68 percent in a five year period. Statistics show that for the reporting period, prescription drug deaths were the second leading cause of unintentional deaths in the United States. The percentage increase translates to increase from 11,000 deaths to 20,000 deaths between 1999 and 2004. 

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