Can There be a Wrongful Death Case and a Criminal Case?

December 17, 2021

Anytime an individual loses their life to the careless, negligent, or intentional actions of another individual or entity, their family members should be able to recover compensation for their losses. However, we understand that there is confusion about the difference between wrongful death claims and criminal cases after a death occurs. Here, we want to discuss whether or not there can be both a wrongful death claim and a criminal case for the same death.

Wrongful Death Claims Are Civil Actions

W.Va. Code § 55-7-5 (2021) states wrongful death claims in West Virginia as anytime a person loses their life due to the “wrongful act, neglect, or default” of another individual or entity. The law is specific in saying that these claims can be pursued anytime the deceased would have been able to file a personal injury lawsuit against the defendant had they survived.

Wrongful death claims arise in a wide variety of ways, including vehicle accidents, intentional acts of violence, defective product claims, workplace accidents, and more. A wrongful death lawsuit must be filed in the civil court system in West Virginia by the personal representative of the deceased’s estate on behalf of surviving family members. These claims are filed for the purpose of recovering compensation for the estate and family members.

If a wrongful death case is successful in civil court, this will not result in any type of imprisonment or criminal punishment for the defendant.

Criminal Charges Occur in Civil Court

Not every death occurs as a result of a criminal act. However, if a crime is suspected, prosecutors with the state will likely file charges against the person allegedly responsible for the death. These cases are filed in criminal court. The purpose of a criminal case is to determine whether or not an individual broke the law when they caused the death of another.

If a person is found guilty in a criminal court case in these situations, they will likely serve a term of imprisonment or some other statutory penalty. Some of the most common criminal charges associated with the loss of life include first-degree murder, second-degree murder, and vehicular homicide.

Wrongful Death Cases Can Proceed Whether There Are Criminal Charges or Not

Wrongful death cases can move forward in civil court regardless of whether or not criminal charges are filed against an individual. The estate of the deceased can file a wrongful death claim if criminal charges are never brought against the defendant. The estate can also file a wrongful death claim if criminal charges are brought against the defendant and they are found guilty or innocent.

If you have lost a loved one as a result of the careless or negligent actions of another individual, business, or entity in West Virginia, we strongly encourage you to reach out to a skilled Martinsburg wrongful death attorney as soon as possible. An attorney can examine every aspect of your case and help you determine the best steps moving forward for your situation.

Please do not hesitate to start this process as soon as possible. The West Virginia wrongful death statute of limitations is two years from the date of death. Failing to file a claim within this timeframe to life may result in the estate and family members being unable to recover the compensation they are entitled to.


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