The 4 Elements Needed to Prove Wrongful Death

Posted in Personal Injury on March 12, 2019.

A wrongful death claim effectively functions as a personal injury claim on behalf of a victim who did not survive his or her injury. The purpose of a personal injury claim is to make the plaintiff “whole” again after suffering damages from the defendant’s negligence. A wrongful death claim instead compensates the estate of the deceased person and his or her family for their loss.

For learn more information about wrongful death claims in Birmingham, visit our wrongful death page to find detailed information on the claims process, statute of limitations in Alabama, and ways our attorneys can help you through this tough time.

Four Elements in a Wrongful Death Claim

The four elements necessary to prove wrongful death fall in line with those required for proving negligence in personal injury claims.

Duty of Care

The first element of a wrongful death claim is proving the defendant owed a duty of care in the given situation. Duty of care can apply to various situations and circumstances, but it generally refers to a reasonable adult’s ability to exercise care and react appropriately in different situations.

  • A medical professional has a duty of care and professional obligation to prevent harm to patients.
  • A driver has a duty of care to drive safely and follow posted traffic signals.
  • A childcare employee has a duty of care to provide a safe environment for the children he or she supervises.

The plaintiff in a wrongful death claim must establish the defendant had some kind of involvement with the death in question.

Breach of Duty

Once the plaintiff’s attorney establishes the defendant’s duty of care, the next element of proving wrongful death is showing that the defendant violated or breached his or her duty of care. This can be through a direct action, such as driving under the influence of alcohol, or inaction when another reasonable person in the same situation would have acted appropriately. The plaintiff’s attorney must prove the defendant failed to exercise reasonable care in the situation in question.


The damages in a wrongful death claim are relatively obvious; the wrongful death of the individual in question and the economic and noneconomic damages related to that death form the basis of a wrongful death claim. In a personal injury case, an absence of damages will result in a lack of basis for a claim; the damages in a wrongful death claim are readily apparent.

Damages in a wrongful death claim can extend to those experienced by the decedent, by the decedent’s family, and the decedent’s estate.

  • Pain and suffering the deceased experienced between the time of his or her final injury and the time of death.
  • The pain and suffering, loss of companionship, and loss of consortium experienced by the decedent’s surviving loved ones after the untimely death.
  • Economic damages to the decedent’s estate, such as lost valuation on assets and investments.
  • Lost income, both from the time between the final injury and death and lost future earnings the deceased would have reasonably expected to earn in the future had he or she survived.
  • Funeral and burial expenses.
  • Punitive damages may be possible if the defendant was criminally negligent, engaged in illegal activity that caused or contributed to the death, or committed an intentional tort against the deceased, causing fatal injuries.


The final and often most challenging element necessary to prove a wrongful death claim is causation, or the link between the defendant’s negligence and the plaintiff’s damages. The plaintiff’s attorney must prove the defendant’s negligence directly caused or contributed to the death in question in some way.

The plaintiff’s attorney may also prove the death would not have occurred but for the defendant’s negligence. This is fairly easy to prove in some cases and more difficult in others. Additionally, a defendant may acknowledge his or her liability for a wrongful death and attempt to conceal it or flee, potentially making the plaintiff’s position even more challenging.

Ultimately, wrongful death claims follow a similar framework to personal injury claims when it comes to proving liability for the death in question. However, the damages involved and the complexities surrounding most wrongful death claims make these cases much more complicated than typical personal injury lawsuits.