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Accidental Death Vs Wrongful Death

When someone close to us dies in some incident, it’s natural to cast about for reasons why it happened. And if there is some cause to believe that someone else may be responsible for the death, it’s also natural to seek out justice. But while something like a murder case, where a criminal deliberately seeks to kill someone else has a clear line of action and resolution, when things occur in an accident situation, resolution becomes more difficult to neatly resolve.

For example, in a situation where a child is hit by a car, clearly it was a driver, behind the wheel that plays some part in the death of the child. But is the driver actually responsible? A lot of factors play into answering that question, and the answer will determine whether the death was accidental, or a case of wrongful death, where legal action can be taken.


Accidental Death


When a death is legally decided to be accidental, that means that no one is held responsible, and therefore, no criminal charges or civil lawsuits can go forward. In our example of a child, if the driver is alert, is taking all precautions, paying attention to the road, not drunk, not on drugs, not distracted by the phone, and is slowing down because the car is in a residential neighborhood, that’s due diligence. In a court of law, that driver is doing everything reasonably possible to maintain control, situational awareness and promote road safety.

So, in this example, if a child chasing a ball suddenly comes out from behind a vehicle the driver is about to pass, with no other warning, this is an accidental death. The driver had no way to see the child, and more importantly, simply does not have enough time or distance to apply the brakes and safely avoid hitting the child. As tragic as this event might be, if the child had simply bolted out from behind an obstruction in such a way, it’s not humanly possible to avoid impact.


Wrongful Death


On the other hand, if a driver is not exercising all these responsibilities, then that puts the liability for death on the driver, as the tragedy would have otherwise been easily preventable. So, in another similar example, the child is playing on his or her own yard, not anywhere near the road. If the driver is both drunk, and is using his or her phone, then loses control of the car, swerves off the road and onto the front yard where the child is, and strikes the child, leading to death, this is a very different situation.

Here, the driver is completely responsible for the death of the child, especially once the breathalyzer test has been administered and drunkenness documented. This, combined with the fact that the car lost control and left the road, hitting the child in his or her own yard, clearly indicates that this is not the child’s fault.

In cases of wrongful death, it’s important to make sure justice is served. Talk to an accident lawyer about your circumstances and see what you need to do to set the wheels of justice in motion.