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Is a wrongful death lawsuit possible if the state doesn’t file criminal charges?

On Behalf of | Mar 18, 2024 | Wrongful Death

It is natural for those affected by a sudden tragedy to want closure and justice. The Kansas courts can sometimes provide opportunities to achieve these ends for surviving loved ones.

In some cases, state prosecutors recognize that criminal choices led to someone’s untimely death. State prosecutors can bring charges against someone who is responsible for another person’s death. Other times, family members who have recently lost someone they loved obtain closure and a sense of justice by filing a wrongful death lawsuit in the civil courts.

Is it possible to pursue a wrongful death lawsuit if Kansas prosecutors have declined to charge the party to blame for someone’s death? Or if that party was charged but won their case?

Charges are not necessary for litigation

There are certain benefits to a wrongful death lawsuit that relates to a criminal case. The evidence that the state presents to show the guilt or misconduct of one party could benefit the plaintiffs in a wrongful death lawsuit.

However, civil litigation is an option even in scenarios where prosecutors cannot pursue charges or do not secure a conviction. The standard for evidence is lower in a civil case than it is in a criminal trial. Prosecutors trying to secure a conviction have to gather evidence that proves criminal conduct beyond a reasonable doubt. That can be a very difficult standard to meet in some cases. The evidence standard is different for civil proceedings.

The lawyer representing the plaintiffs in a wrongful death lawsuit only needs to show that a preponderance of the evidence supports the allegations against the defendant. If most of the available information about a situation shows that one party was negligent or engaged in misconduct that caused a death, that can be enough to secure a judgment in civil court even if it would not be enough to warrant a conviction during criminal proceedings.

When families feel frustrated because the courts do not provide them with justice by successfully prosecuting the person they blame for a tragedy, a wrongful death lawsuit can be an alternative path to justice and closure. People immediately affected by someone’s untimely death may have a difficult time being rational and objective about the circumstances.

Discussing the details of a tragic situation with an attorney can help families validate whether they are in a position to file a wrongful death lawsuit. Those familiar with the rules for civil proceedings in Kansas may be better prepared to seek justice on behalf of a loved one.