Every wrongful death lawyer in America has heard stories the border on unconscionable, but most cases involve negligence or recklessness. While legal distinctions are relatively minor in civil court if a case involves malice, claims often proceed very differently. Let's take a look at why that is and how a wrongful death attorney might elect to handle the issues that come up.
Malice Usually Means a Crime Occurred
First, it's important to be 100% clear that a wrongful death claim or a lawsuit is a distinct thing from a murder or manslaughter trial. Second, they are not mutually exclusive, meaning that you can still file a wrongful death claim if someone is being prosecuted. It's just critical that plaintiffs appreciate that successfully pursuing a wrongful death case has no bearing on the criminal side of things.
With that in mind, it's not unusual for a wrongful death lawyer to want to wait to see how the criminal part of the matter turns out. This occurs for obvious reasons. A claim is likely going to look much stronger if someone has already been convicted of a crime in relation to the death.
You should also note that you will still have the right to pursue a wrongful death claim if a criminal defendant is found not guilty. Again, civil and criminal cases are considered two entirely different legal matters.
Malice is legally defined as conduct displaying hatred, spite, or ill will. It also includes actions that were unconscionable or were done without any demonstrable justifiable cause.
That second sentence is often critical because it opens up malice allegations in wrongful death cases to include egregious conduct. For example, there was a 2019 case in California involving a woman who was shot by police. The officer shot her because she had a knife, but evidence from the scene showed it was a small knife meant for peeling fruit.
State of Mind
It's worth noting, too, that alleging malice introduces questions about the state of mind of the defendant. This can muddy the waters if a case isn't clear-cut. The trade-off is that a successful claim based on malice may carry with it punitive damages, additional compensation awarded to the plaintiff to make the point that what the defendant did was especially wrong. All that said, a wrongful death lawyer will often tread lightly around questions of malice unless they can be clearly proven.
For more information, contact a wrongful death lawyer.Share