A wrongful death lawsuit serves two main purposes. First, it can compensate the victim’s family for some of the damages they face as a result of the loss of their loved one. Second, it can serve the cause of justice by holding parties accountable after their carelessness or bad acts led to a person’s death.
While no legal action can bring back a person who was taken away too soon, these lawsuits can help families cope with the permanent damage done to their lives. And every so often, they can help bring about change that will lead to better justice for the whole community.
A wrongful death lawsuit against New Mexico’s Children, Youth and Families Department may have hastened a change of leadership for the state agency. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham recently announced she had chosen a retired justice from the New Mexico Supreme Court to take over the CYFD after a series of scandals rocked the department. Some of these problems came to light after the filing of a wrongful death suit in a high-profile case.
The lawsuit, concerning the tragic death of a 4-year-old, accuses the department of breaching its duty to protect the child after multiple incidents in which it learned the child was being neglected and physically and sexually abused. According to the lawsuit, the CYFD received at least 10 reports that the child was unsafe. The boy died in 2019 after being beaten by a friend of his mother. The friend faces criminal charges, and local news media have covered the case extensively.
While criminal charges can be an effective way of securing justice after a death brought about by abuse or neglect, a civil lawsuit on the basis of wrongful death has many advantages.
For one thing, the standard for conviction in a civil lawsuit is lower than it is for criminal charges. In a criminal trial, a jury must find the accused guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. In a civil trial, the court must only fine find the defendant guilty by a preponderance of the evidence. This standard is commonly described as “more likely than not,” as in “after hearing the evidence, the court found it more likely than not that the defendant was legally responsible.” Essentially, this means it is easier for the plaintiffs to win their case in a civil lawsuit than it is for government prosecutors to win a conviction in a criminal case.
Another advantage of civil lawsuits: The parties can often come up with more creative solutions to a civil lawsuit than they can in a criminal prosecution. Most civil lawsuits are ultimately resolved through an agreement between the parties, and the parties have a wide amount of leeway in deciding what will be in that agreement. In many cases, the agreement will simply spell out how much money the defendant will pay to the plaintiffs to resolve the dispute. In others, the plaintiffs may demand other actions from the defendant that will protect other people in the future.
Those who are considering a wrongful death action can speak with their lawyer about their options in creating a settlement for their case. In addition to recovering compensation, they may be able to secure an agreement that will help many people in the future, and that can be a great legacy to leave in memory of a loved one who was taken away before their time.