Like in any personal injury lawsuit, when it comes to a wrongful death case, the burden is on the plaintiff to prove that the defendant caused the deceased’s fatal injuries.
Understanding burden of proof
One thing to know about the burden of proof in wrongful death is that it is lower than in a criminal case based on the same incident. Under New Mexico law, the plaintiff must prove their case by the preponderance of the evidence. This is the lowest level of proof required in the law. It means that the plaintiff must convince the judge or jury that it is more likely than not that the defendant’s negligent actions were the proximate cause of the death. Meanwhile, in criminal court, the prosecution must prove the defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, a much higher burden to meet.
What is proximate cause?
In personal injury law, proximate cause means there is a “chain of causation” between the defendant’s negligence and the deceased’s death. In plain language, this means that the defendant’s negligence set off a series of events that led to the fatality. For example, say a person decides to text on their phone while driving. While looking at their phone, they miss that the light has turned red and drive into the intersection. Another driver has already entered the intersection because they had a green light. The distracted driver crashes into the second vehicle, fatally injuring the other driver.
Each step in the story — the distraction, running the red light, crashing into another vehicle — is a link in the chain. There would be a strong case that the first driver’s distraction was the proximate cause of the second driver’s death.
Assistance for grieving families
Because a victim of wrongful death cannot assert their rights in court, someone else must stand in for them. This is usually a grieving spouse, parent or adult child. Someone seeking financial justice for their loved one’s death would benefit greatly from the advice and representation of an experienced personal injury attorney.