What is the difference between homicide and wrongful death?

A death can be a traumatic event for the loved ones of the deceased person. In Montana, certain relatives may file wrongful death legal claims against the person or party who causes the death of a victim; wrongful death lawsuits are often filed after criminal matters related to the death are resolved. Because criminal charges, like murder and manslaughter, are sometimes alleged against individuals accused of wrongful death, readers may wonder just what the differences are between these claims.

First, a wrongful death lawsuit is based on a civil theory of law, usually negligence or recklessness. Private parties may file wrongful death lawsuits, and those lawsuits are often filed with the end goal of gaining compensation for the losses that resulted from the decedent's passing. On the other hand, murder and manslaughter are criminal charges that may only be filed by prosecutors on behalf of the community. Conviction on a criminal matter often results in the accused losing freedoms and privileges through incarceration or other punitive actions.

Second, with regard to how the cases are tried, in a civil case, the standard level of proof that must be demonstrated in order to show the accused is guilty is lower than the standard required in a criminal case. Because criminal matters may result in the accused losing important personal rights, courts require prosecutors to overcome a heavy burden of evidence to secure a conviction.

While murder charges are criminal, wrongful death claims are civil. These legal matters play out in separate court systems and have different consequences. Both may be pursued after the loss of a loved one, and personal injury attorneys in the area can help grieving families explore their rights to wrongful death litigation.

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