Wrongful Death: A Faculty Case-Based Examination

Regardless of the circumstances in which a person’s life is lost, the event is often a tragedy that can have profound effects on the lives and well-being of those who are left behind. However, this is particularly true in circumstances in which the death occurred as a result of another person’s actions. In consideration of the devastating consequences that this particular type of tragedy can have on others, the family of a deceased individual whose death occurred as a result of another party’s actions have the right to pursue compensation for their loss through a wrongful death lawsuit.

Wrongful death lawsuits can arise from a wide range of different circumstances. Generally Nicole Brown Simpsonspeaking, for a wrongful death action to have legal basis to move forward, it is only necessary to be able to show that an individual’s death was caused by the reckless or negligent actions of another party, actions which are beyond what a reasonable individual might consider appropriate. However, this is a legal formulation that incorporates a remarkable range of different types of actions. An evaluation of an extreme example of wrongful death lawsuits can help to illustrate how diverse this type of legal action can be.

In 1994, Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman were murdered in Los Angeles, California. Suspicion immediately focused on Nicole’s ex-husband, former NFL star O.J. Simpson, who was known to have had a tumultuous relationship with Nicole. O.J. was arrested after a dramatic police chase, and charged with the murder of Nicole Simpson and Ronald Goldman. He pleaded not guilty to all charges, and thus laid the groundwork for one of the most notable criminal trials in the history of the American legal system. After nearly eight months, the jury in this criminal trial returned a verdict of “not guilty,” though the evidence linking Simpson to the murders was substantial.

This element of the O.J. Simpson case is widely known. Less heavily publicized was the subsequent civil lawsuit brought against Simpson by the families of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman. Wrongful death attorney Daniel Petrocelli represented both families. This suit charged Simpson with the wrongful deaths of the murder victims, and the verdict was in this circumstance returned against Simpson, rather than in his favor. The reason for the different outcome came down to the standard of evidence required: in wrongful death suits, the standard required is simply a preponderance of evidence (in laymen’s terms, simply enough evidence to convince a reasonable person that the incident likely occurred), whereas in criminal prosecutions, the evidence must be conclusive to place guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

This is an extreme example of a wrongful death lawsuit; many other cases are more benign in the underlying cause, often involving issues such as workplace accidents, defective products, or medical malpractice. Regardless of the cause, though, individuals who lose a family member as a result of the irresponsible behavior of others are all granted the legal right to pursue compensation for their loss.

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