How Do You Prove Wrongful Death? | Scartelli Olszewski, P.C.
casket at funeral of someone who died a wrongful death | scartelli olszewski

How Do You Prove Wrongful Death?

Rachel Olszewski
Rachel Olszewski

When it comes to proving a wrongful death case, the most important thing you must understand is that wrongful death cases are not criminal cases. As the plaintiff, you and your attorneys are not taking the role of the prosecution. Wrongful death cases are civil suits, which means you are suing the responsible party for financial damages. No one is going to jail as a direct result of your civil suit. If you’re not sure what to expect and need legal guidance about wrongful death cases, contact the attorneys at Scartelli Olszewski, P.C.

The Benefits of Civil Suits

When it comes to obtaining justice for your loved one, civil suits may not seem worth it. It’s important to understand that even if someone is not charged with a crime, your chances of proving wrongful death in civil court are higher than in a criminal court. In fact, the standard of proof for civil cases is significantly less than for criminal cases.

In criminal cases, the prosecution must prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. In civil cases, the plaintiff must prove a preponderance of the evidence, which means more likely than not. That may not sound significant, but that difference is incredibly important. It gives you a lot of room to work with, and far more leeway to achieve the outcome you’re seeking.

Also, if the entity responsible for your loved one’s death is a group, such as a government office or corporation, a deep financial settlement will do more damage to them than one person’s arrest.

The Four Elements You Must Prove

To prove a wrongful death case, there are four elements that you must prove first. These elements establish the who, what, when, where, and why of your loved one’s accident. It’s not enough to have someone to blame, but to have logical and conclusive evidence that they likely could have prevented your loved one’s death without putting themselves in danger.


Negligence and causation are two elements that tie together very closely. It’s important to show that the defendant was negligent, either in maintaining their property or caring for your loved one’s safety.

For example, in a workplace accident situation, your loved one’s employer did not make sure that the environment met safety standards that could have saved your loved one’s life. Or, if they were injured on someone’s personal property – hurt by a fall or an exposed piece of material – the property owner was negligent in maintaining it.

For the property owner to be negligent, the hazard that led to your loved one’s death had to be something the owner was aware of and did nothing about, or should have been realistically aware of but was dangerously ignorant of.


While negligence is being proven, the fact that the defendant’s property (and thus negligence) caused the death of your loved one will commonly be proven too. This can happen afterward, but by proving the existence of negligence, we can focus on explaining how this led to your loved one’s death.

The defendant will try to argue that pre-existing circumstances led to your loved one’s death. Even if your loved one had a pre-existing condition, if it was most likely made worse by the defendant’s negligence, they’re still responsible for their death. It’s no one’s responsibility to be physically healthy enough to survive someone else’s negligence.

Breach of Duty

For wrongful death cases, it must also be proven that the defendant owed a duty to your loved one. The circumstances of your loved one’s death deeply affect this. It may seem cut and dry to say that everyone has to keep their property safe and maintained, but if a property owner has hazards that they cannot remove, or cannot afford to remove, and they appropriately warn everyone of the dangers, they can prove that they did not violate their duty.

Your legal team then has to prove that the property owner did not appropriately warn your loved one of the risks.


This may be the most emotionally nerve-wracking, yet technically simple part of proving your wrongful death case. Someone has died, and death always comes with a cost. As their loved one, you can seek compensation for several damages, some of which are incredibly difficult for the defendant to refute. These damages include:

  • Medical bills
  • Burial/funeral costs
  • Loss of income and potential earnings
  • Loss of protection and inheritance
  • Pain and suffering

You still need to provide strong and convincing evidence that you incurred these damages, but most of these are monetary costs that come with receipts of some kind. Proving pain and suffering may require expert witnesses to testify, so be prepared for this if your case proceeds to trial.

What Should You Do If Your Loved One Suffered a Wrongful Death?

The loss of a loved one is one of the worst experiences we will all go through, and to lose them to a wrongful death only makes it even worse. Once you are ready, the first thing you should do is contact our wrongful death attorneys.

We will walk you and your loved ones through collecting the information and documents you need to build our cases. This includes receipts and bills for damages you’ve incurred, potential witnesses of the incident, and your pain and suffering. While a civil suit victory cannot replace a loved one, it can work to ensure one less person or entity can allow what happened to your loved one to happen again.

Contact the attorneys at Scartelli Olszewski, P.C. today.

Rachel Olszewski
Rachel Olszewski

Rachel D. Olszewski, an attorney at Scartelli Olszewski, P.C., is a dedicated advocate for clients who have suffered unjust harm. Following the legacy of her esteemed family members, Rachel specializes in personal injury, medical malpractice, and criminal defense. She is actively involved in professional associations and serves on the board of the Luzerne County Bar Association Charitable Foundation. Rachel is admitted to practice in Pennsylvania state courts and the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania.
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