What Do You Need to Prove in a Wrongful Death Civil Case?

Posted by Schauermann Thayer | Dec 03, 2018 | 0 Comments

While each wrongful death lawsuit possesses its own unique characteristics, many cases have one common denominator--the individual or entity who caused your loved one's death (the defendant) acted negligently. Those cases involve showing the defendant was negligent and their negligence was a cause of the victim's death.


In many cases, a civil wrongful death action will be based on a legal theory of negligence, which is defined as a failure to behave with the level of care that someone of ordinary prudence would have exercised under the same or similar circumstances. In other words, a person acts negligently when he or she does something that a reasonable person would not have done when faced with the same or similar circumstances.

For example, if your loved one was killed by a person who was driving too fast for the road conditions at the time of the accident, and a reasonable person should have driven slower under the circumstances--perhaps due to weather or traffic--then the person who caused your loved one's accident may have acted negligently.

Elements of Negligence

In order to successfully prove a wrongful death claim based on negligence, your attorney must be able to prove the four elements of negligence. This includes:

  • Duty,
  • Breach,
  • Causation, and
  • Damages.


A duty exists when one person is required to act with a reasonable amount of care toward another individual while doing something could foreseeably result in harm, or refrain from doing something that could foreseeably result in harm. If your loved one was killed in a car accident, for example, then your attorney must prove that the person who caused the accident owed a duty to other drivers on the road to drive in a safe manner.


After you prove that the defendant owed a duty to your loved one, you must prove that the person or who caused your loved one's death breached that duty. If your loved one's death resulted from a car accident, you will need to prove that the individual who caused the accident breached the duty to drive safely at the time of the accident, such as texting while driving or speeding. It is not enough to prove that the person texts and drives regularly.


The individual's breach of his or her duty must have caused your loved one's death. Put differently, you must be able to prove that but for the individual's actions, your loved one's death would not have occurred. You must also prove that it was foreseeable that those actions could cause your loved one's death. There has to be a link between the negligence of the defendant and the resulting harm.


It may seem obvious that a person wrongfully killed suffered damages. However, the types of damages recoverable in a wrongful death action can be a complex topic.

Grieving the Unexpected Loss of a Loved One? We're Here to Help

A defendant's negligence can be the basis for various types of wrongful death claims. For example:

Experienced wrongful death attorneys in Oregon or Washington can help you fight for fair compensation. The attorneys at Schauermann Thayer Jacobs Staples & Edwards PS are ready to help. To schedule a consultation and discuss your case, fill out an online case evaluation form or call (360) 695-4244 today.

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The attorneys at Schauermann Thayer handle personal injury, wrongful death, and insurance actions for clients throughout the Southwest Washington and Portland, Oregon area.


Schauermann Thayer is committed to answering your questions and addressing your concerns about potential personal injury and wrongful death cases in Washington and Oregon.

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