Rightful Damages in a Wrongful Death

Rightful settlements and awards in cases of Wrongful Death are hot topics right now.  This is because of not one, but two celebrity cases that have been in trending conversations and recent news:

In Today’s Public Eye:  Venus Williams

…On the one hand we are watching the legal battles brewing as Linda Barson pursues her wrongful death case against Venus Williams.  For the backstory of Williams-Barson June 8 car accident, and the subsequent death of Linda Barson’s husband, check on our previous two blogs.

In addition, the only recent development has been the subpoena issued by Linda Barson’s lawyer, for phone records.  We presume they might want such information in a hope of proving a cell phone call distracted the tennis pro from her driving.  And thus she didn’t see the Barson car in the intersection. We’ll be commenting on what happens as it unfolds and what the court decides are the rightful circumstances of the case.

A Flashback to Yesterday’s Public Eye:  OJ Simpson

…On the other hand, last week’s buzz in the news was OJ Simpson’s recent parole from his conviction for kidnapping and robbing a friend.

Rightful criminal law exacts a price in freedom.

Rightful criminal law can take your freedom.

His televised parole hearing reminded Americans of a sensational murder trial.  It was also one of the most publicized wrongful death cases in American legal history.

You might remember that shortly after the jury acquitted him of the criminal charge of murder in the deaths of Nicole Simpson and Ron Goldman in 1995.  The families of the victims pressed a wrongful death case which they won in 1997.  The jury awarded them a reputed 33 million dollars. However, to our knowledge, the family members who sued have only collected a tiny percentage of that large award.

Of Special Note:  Just to set the record straight, Metts Legal reminds you that the time OJ Simpson spent in prison had nothing to do with that wrongful death case.  As we stated above, he spent nine years of his 33-year sentence in prison for his part in the robbery of a sports memorabilia collector-friend.  He has won his parole.

State’s Rights in Your Rightful Case

Settling damages in rightful cases of a wrongful death situation is governed by different laws at the state level, in different states.  Keep in mind that Metts Legal focuses their blog articles on the laws in their own home state of Florida.  So if you read this outside the state of Florida, be sure you check the laws in your own state.

Public Confusion between Civil and Criminal Cases

Rightful settlement in civil court takes your money, not your life.

A civil court can take your money, but not your freedom.

Because of his exoneration in the murder trial, a conviction in the civil wrongful death trial, and subsequent imprisonment for robbery, many people became confused.  Indeed, many of the public believed the stiff sentence for the robbery escapade was the indirect result of the guilty verdict in the wrongful death suit.

That is not only untrue but impossible due to the difference between civil and criminal court cases and the goals of each type of case.  Thus, this blog takes a quick look at the differences in civil cases of wrongful death and court trials for murder.

The Rightful Goals of the Court:

In the first place, civil and criminal cases have different goals.  A criminal court seeks punishment by imprisonment of the guilty party.  The civil court seeks to punish the guilty party through the wallet with remunerative awards to the victim or victims.  In other words, when you are convicted, the criminal court can take your freedom.  In contrast, the civil court can take your money and give it to your victims, but it cannot imprison you.

The Burden of Proof in a Murder Trial:

Likewise, the burden of proof is very different in criminal and in civil cases.  In a criminal case of murder, the prosecution must prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt.  In our famous example above, the OJ Simpson trial, the prosecution was unable to accomplish this in the eyes of the jury.  Thus, the jury declared OJ not guilty.

The Burden of Proof in a Civil Case

In a civil case, the jury must prove what is termed a “preponderance of the evidence.”  In other words, the plaintiffs must prove to the jury that there is at least a 50.1 percent probability that the accused was liable or responsible for the victim’s death.

In the OJ Simpson wrongful death case, the jury felt that the plaintiffs met that burden of proof, and thus awarded damages to the victim’s families.  Thus, a person can be found liable under the civil law, but not guilty under the criminal law.  That fact confused many people in 1997.

Categories of Damages:  Making Awards a Matter of Time

Metts Legal wants you to know that by Florida law, a jury might award two categories of damages.  Generally, time governs these two large categories of possible awards.

  1. First Category of Damages:

    This category measures the compensation for the time of suffering from the negligent act to the actual time of the decedent’s (victim’s) death.  The rightful damages in this category include financial cost of:

    Rightful enforcement of the law and justice for all rules both at the civil and criminal courts.

    Justice is the major goal of both civil and criminal courts.

  • Medical expenses,
  • wages lost from the deceased person,
  • the victim’s mental and physical pain and suffering,
  • decedent’s funeral and burial.

     2. Second Category of Damages:

The second broad category of damages covers those losses endured by the family survivors after the decedent’s death.  This is the category in which Metts Legal helps family survivors receive compensation for their emotional losses. It includes:

  • The value of the deceased persons lost wages,
  • loss of consortium, which means the loss of love and companionship.
  • Praise-worthy states such as Florida use this law to provide compensation for children who suffer the loss of a parent’s support and guidance.

Rightful Punishment for Wrongful Death:  Punitive Damages:

The above-listed damages are compensatory.  Additionally, courts can also award punitive damages to the survivors of the deceased. This is especially imperative when the defendant indulged in reprehensible, negligent behavior, and caused the death.

Courts help survivors walk away from wrongful death with dignity intact.

Survivors see hope as they walk out of the wrongful death experience, into the future.

Mett’s Legal reminds you that the essential meaning of the word punitive.  It relates directly to the word “punishment.”  Punitive damages are designed to be punishment for the defendant’s reprehensible and negligent behavior.  And it is a deterrent to future persistence in that behavior.

If punitive damages are a topic of interest to you, you might like to explore the scholarly paper, Current Trends in the American Law of Punitive Damages to get a feeling of how a life might be measured in dollars for the sake of survivors in a wrongful death case.

Thank you for reading the third part of our coverage of the topic of wrongful death.  It features this week’s fascinating points of rightful Florida law. We hope you will drop into our Metts Legal blog often to enrich your knowledge of legal news, without the sensationalism.

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