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What Is The Difference Between Wrongful Death and Manslaughter?

Wrongful death law applies in cases in which the conduct of one person has resulted in the death of another. The purpose of this law is to compensate family members and-or dependents who will suffer as a result of the victim’s death. Wrongful death claims involve all types of fatal accidents, including construction accidents, auto accidents, medical malpractice, elevator accidents and product liability cases. In order for a defendant to be deemed liable for a wrongful death, the plaintiff must prove that the victim would not have died if the defendant had not been negligent.

A wrongful death may occur when machinery in a workplace malfunctions and then someone gets injured and later dies, or a person dies in a car crash.

By contrast, manslaughter occurs when a person did not mean to kill but was grossly negligent. According to New York Penal Law § 125.15, Manslaughter in the Second Degree occurs when one person “recklessly causes the death of another person.” This means that the person is aware that he or she is committing a reckless act and they consciously disregard the potentially fatal risks involved to others. Although the person may not be intending to do harm to others, the action is one that a reasonable person would not do and there is the knowledge that the activity could cause serious or fatal injury to others.

Examples of manslaughter include a driver traveling at night in a car without headlights then striking and killing a pedestrian in a crosswalk or a doctor who recklessly performed liposuction on a woman with a transplanted heart, leading to her death.

Wrongful death is a civil suit charge while manslaughter is a criminal charge.

The state or the federal government prosecutes manslaughter charges. The jury begins the trial presuming the defendant innocent, and the prosecutor has to prove, through evidence, that the defendant recklessly caused the death of another human being. If someone is found guilty in a manslaughter trial, penalties may include having to pay steep fines and serve time in prison.

Wrongful death cases take place in civil courts and close relatives of the deceased typically file charges. Unlike criminal cases, wrongful death lawyers do not have to prove guilt or innocence beyond a reasonable doubt. The lawyer needs to present enough evidence to shift the jury’s opinion to their side. If the defendant is found guilty, they will generally be required to pay damages, including medical bills, funeral and burial expenses, loss of the deceased person’s expected income, and more.

Under New York Penal Law § 125.20 Manslaughter in the First Degree is charged when one person is found to have intentionally caused serious physical injury to another person, and that injury then resulted in death.

In New York, a negligent person does not have to be found guilty of manslaughter to be held responsible in a wrongful death lawsuit. But, if a reckless person is found guilty in a criminal manslaughter trial, the person may also have to pay compensation in a wrongful death lawsuit.


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