Wrongful Death:

Criminal vs Civil Cases Involving Death

Criminal charges are brought by the state, must be proved “beyond a reasonable doubt,” and typically result in incarceration. Civil suits are brought by individuals, must provide “a preponderance of evidence,” and seek to recover monetary wrongful death damages. In the case of Wrongful Death, the family members of the deceased typically file the suit.

The most important difference is the standard of proof. In criminal cases, the accused is presumed innocent until proven guilty and the need for evidence “beyond a reasonable doubt” means the standard of proof is very high. The standard of proof in civil cases is not as stringent. A “preponderance of evidence” is the lowest standard of proof. In numerical terms, it can be said to mean that the accused is more than 50% likely to be guilty. That is, the evidence of guilt of a wrongful death must be greater than the evidence of innocence, but not significantly.