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The Definition of Wrongful Death Is Wider Than You Think

Categories:Working with an Attorney

At the onset of his criminal trial for murder of Odin Lloyd, pro New England Patriots football player Aaron Hernandez seemed as if he didn’t have a care in the world. He projected confidence and kept his cool. Upon hearing that he was guilty of murder this week, however, his nonchalant smile evolved into a somber realization of what was in store. Upon hearing his sentence – life imprisonment with no possibility of parole sentence – Mr. Hernandez seemed downright deflated. Justice has been meted out, and it tasted pretty bitter.

However, Lady Justice is not yet finished with Mr. Hernandez. In criminal court, the State or the federal government must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the person charged committed the crime in question. That burden is the highest burden in the United States justice system. The jury here determined that the government met its burden and proved beyond a reasonable doubt that Mr. Hernandez intentionally killed his fiancee’s sister’s boyfriend, Odin Lloyd. Yet Mr. Hernandez – who once played tight end for the Patriots under a five-year, $40 million contract – now faces other legal battles: a wrongful death lawsuit filed against him by the victim’s family.

Many people think of wrongful death actions as lawsuits that are limited to situations like car crashes or other accidents – situations where the Defendant didn’t necessarily act deliberately. However, wrongful death actions most certainly may be filed as a result of intentional actions as well, like murder. Indeed, wrongful death is a death that occurs due to the negligence or misconduct – which includes deliberate actions – of another. To prevail in a wrongful death action, it must be proven that the Defendant owed a duty to the deceased to use reasonable care, he or she breached that duty and, as a result, caused the victim’s death. Damages must also be proven. Unlike the criminal justice system where the burden is beyond a reasonable doubt, in civil cases, the elements must be proven by a lower standard – the greater weight of the evidence. Attaching a percentage to that standard helps clarify what “the greater weight of the evidence” means: a Judge or jury needs to be convinced by 51% that the Plaintiff’s evidence is more persuasive.  Wrongful death actions are brought by the decedent’s survivors. (Please see our Wrongful Death Practice Area pages for an in-depth description of who may bring a wrongful death action and the damages that are potentially recoverable).

An example of a similar deep-pocketed Defendant which many are familiar is O.J. Simpson. O.J.’s case is different in that he of course was found not guilty in criminal court of the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman. However, he was found liable by a civil jury in the wrongful death action brought by the decedents’ families for those murders, under the greater weight of the evidence burden. The jury awarded $33.5 million to the victims’ families in that case.

Since Mr. Hernandez was found guilty in his criminal case, under the high beyond a reasonable doubt standard, it seems quite likely that the victim’s family will prevail in their wrongful death action against him.

If your loved one has passed away as a result of another’s negligent or deliberate action, the attorneys at Brooks Law Group can help. While pursuing legal action may be the furthest thought from your mind, receiving justice and helping with expenses associated with your tragedy may help tremendously. Call today.

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