Wrongful death versus criminal homicide

While both wrongful death and criminal homicide involve the death of an individual, there are distinct differences in the terms of court proceedings that separate the two.

During a wrongful death lawsuit, the estate of the deceased attempts to recover damages in a civil court proceeding. Criminal homicide cases involve criminal court proceedings during which a state prosecution seeks a prison sentence for the accused. Both proceedings can occur for the same death.

In a wrongful death claim, the plaintiff must prove the defendant is liable (more likely than not) by a preponderance of evidence. However, in a criminal homicide lawsuit, the prosecution must prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. This results in a higher burden of proof than in a civil court proceeding for wrongful death.