Those who have recently lost a loved one due to another’s actions or inactions are often eager to pursue justice. They may expect that New Mexico prosecutors will file charges against the individual or business executives directly responsible for their loss. They may then feel profound disappointment when the party they blame for their tragedy never gets arrested or manages to avoid a conviction. And even if they are criminally convicted, this may do very little to alleviate the burdens that a grieving family is compelled to bear in the wake of a great loss.
Wrongful death claims are another way for grieving family members in New Mexico to seek justice. After a successful claim, the courts will acknowledge that the other party caused (or directly contributed to the cause of) the death of an individual. A wrongful death lawsuit can impose direct financial consequences on a business or individual that caused someone’s death. However, for such claims to succeed, plaintiffs need to meet the burden of proof imposed by the state.
The civil courts have a lower standard for evidence
People sometimes convince themselves that they are not in a position to take legal action specifically because New Mexico state prosecutors did not bring charges against the other party or because they were unable to secure a conviction in criminal court. What people may not realize is that there is a very different standard for evidence in a civil claim as opposed to the criminal prosecution of an individual.
For a prosecutor to secure a conviction, they need to meet a very high burden of proof. They need to establish beyond a reasonable doubt that the crime occurred and that the defendant is the one who committed the offense. Any reasonable alternate explanation that the prosecution fails to address might lead to someone’s exoneration. The high standard for criminal cases helps prevent prosecutorial abuse and gives those accused of criminal wrongdoing the best opportunity to prove their innocence.
The lower standard in civil court is easier for individuals to meet. They simply need to show that a preponderance of the evidence supports their claim. In other words, if a majority of what documentation or records that exist for the incident align with someone’s claim that a business or individual caused the death, that could be enough to lead to a successful wrongful death claim.
A defendant will need to do more than simply raise a reasonable doubt about their fault or involvement in the incident. Therefore, those denied (or secured!) justice the criminal courts in New Mexico might find that the civil courts offer their family an opportunity for closure. Learning more about the rules that apply to wrongful death lawsuits may help those trying to deal with the grief of a loved one’s death to make informed decisions about their legal rights.