This month in our news section, we discussed the North Carolina wrongful death case involving a 17-year-old girl who was killed by a brick thrown by a 21-year-old man at a party. The man was found guilty of second-degree murder last summer and is serving up to twelve years in prison for his crime. Now, after the murder trial, the girl’s mother has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the man.
So, what is the difference between wrongful death and murder? Can you be responsible for both? Can you be found responsible for just one?
At the most basic legal level, the difference between a murder trial and a wrongful death trial is that murder results in a criminal lawsuit and wrongful death results in a civil lawsuit. Put another way, murder is a crime in which a trial is initiated by the state, while wrongful death is a tort in which a trial is initiated by the victim’s family members.
Another difference is that a murder and criminal trial often results in prison time or other related sentences, while wrongful death trials result in a payment to the surviving family by the responsible party.
While all murders may be the subject of a wrongful death trial, not all people guilty of wrongful death are murderers. For example, a teen who caused a fatal car accident may have been careless about his speed, but he certainly may not have intentionally killed someone. In another example, a doctor may have made a careless medication error that led to a deadly patient overdose, but he certainly didn’t maliciously or purposely end a life. It follows that a person can be found guilty of murder and then go on trial for wrongful death. At the same time, a person could be found innocent of murder but then lose a wrongful death lawsuit.