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What Is the Difference Between Murder and Wrongful Death?

Wrongful Death Law Blog

Do You or Your Family Have a Case?

Do you file a wrongful death lawsuit or murder case if your family member dies due to someone else’s negligent acts? Let’s hear what a premier Los Angeles wrongful death attorney says.

Understanding the difference between murder (a criminal facing murder charges case) and wrongful death (civil lawsuit) might help you weigh your legal choices and decide if retaining personal injury attorneys is best for your surviving family members. Learn the details and standards of proof of legal representation with experience will us here.

The Difference Between Wrongful Death and Murder

  • A Murder Trial vs. a Fatal Accident?
  • Vastly Different Burdens of Proof
  • Seeking Justice
  • Contact Us for an Experienced Attorney

Some individuals get perplexed by the distinction between wrongful death and murder cases. Material facts make the difference.

Civil and criminal lawsuits are the two most common types of cases in the United States. Individual residents file lawsuits against each other in civil proceedings (or against insurance companies or organizations representing either people or businesses).

A civil case can get brought by individuals who hire their private counsel. Civil litigation, with the exception of contempt, rarely results in jail (at least not directly, which means unless somehow the evidence provided in a civil suit shows that criminal penalties by the state get warranted);  however, it results in the payment of damages. State prosecutors filed a criminal charge on behalf of victims and the state.

Murder vs. Wrongful Death: Criminal Cases vs. Civil Cases


Criminal intent is what determines whether or not someone is guilty of murder. Murder gets committed when someone kills another person on purpose. Wrongful death cases can occur as a consequence of malicious intent, but they can also occur due to accidents or irresponsible conduct.

Wrongful Death

A civil action results in a wrongful death lawsuit. This means that the wrongful death case gets brought by the deceased’s family or the estate because the defendant was responsible for the victim’s death as a result of a purposeful or negligent act.

Murder lawsuits, on the other hand, are criminal cases, which means the state files the criminal murder charge on the grounds that the defendant committed illegal conduct in society.

Murder is, in essence, a form of wrongful death, but the state is the client. Not all wrongful deaths, however, are murders.

Case In Point: Orenthal James Simpson (OJ Simpson) was originally charged with first-degree murder for assassinating his ex-wife and food service worker Ron Goldman. The criminal case wasn’t filed by the surviving family of Nicole Brown Simpson or Ron Goldman. The only class member was the state of California.

But after the “not guilty” verdict was returned, Ron Goldman’s serving family sue and won a huge money judgment against OJ, which OJ has desperately evaded paying.

The Burden of Proof

Since murders are always considered a criminal offense, the prosecutor must prove the defendant’s guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt.” Remember, however, the actual family members are not the client, so the material representation is not on their behalf.

Wrongful death lawsuits, alternatively, have a different burden of proof because the party, parties, or anyone involved in litigating civil claims.

If the surviving family hires a wrongful death lawsuit attorney, the family becomes the client. If the family represents in propria persona, they are a self-represented civil client in a wrongful death suit.

In wrongful death suits, the plaintiff’s lawyer must show that the defendant is more probable than not (by a balance of probabilities) to blame for the death case. This is called the civil “preponderance of the evidence” standard. (compare to the criminal burden of proof standard for a murder conviction)

This means that the plaintiff’s friendly and charismatic attorney must persuade the jury that the defendant committed the claims in the civil complaint with a probability of at least 51% in a wrongful death action.

DUI Driver Example

Take for example a DUI or narcotic intoxicated driver who slays another person. That drunk driver could be charged with a crime by the Los Angeles City Attorney, or Los Angeles District Attorney.

Simultaneously, the surviving victim’s loved ones and close family members can hire a personal injury attorney to file a civil case under California wrongful death law against the criminal.

To recap, wrongful death is a legally specific type of civil action. Unlike a criminal action, the family and not the state is the true victim, giving a survivor the right to pursue damages for the loss of the decedent human being in a wrongful death claim.

I say human beings because there is no murder case or wrongful death case for losing an animal. Murder is a criminal act against a human being only!

Finding Justice: Wrongful Death Cases vs. Murder

Homicide cases involve a corpus delicti (damaged party), and the alleged “true victim” (the People of the State of California). A murder or even a manslaughter conviction can result in a prison sentence or the death penalty in the criminal court, based on the jurisdiction and its statutes.

On the other hand (in contrast), in wrongful death lawsuits, the sole available remedy is the plaintiff’s financial compensation, not degrees of punishment. In fact, the only “punishment” available in a wrongful death action is an award of punitive damages. (Typically awarded in cases involving malice aforethought, etc.).

If a criminal defendant is found guilty of civil wrongful death, allegations, they must compensate the victim’s family or estate financially as per the civil court. (Death of a child could result in a wrongful birth lawsuit under your state’s abortion laws) Unless criminal charges are successfully brought, the wrongful death or survival action defendant may not risk jail or other criminal punishments.

Although no money can make up for a loved one’s loss of life, it is vital to cover final expenses or ensure your family’s financial security through a wrongful death lawsuit. This is particularly true if a person or a family relies on the deceased loved one for financial aid or support. This is why a free case review from an attorney with experience matters for damages outside the criminal court.

Do You Need Assistance with Filing a Wrongful Death Lawsuit? Schedule a Free Case Evaluation Today!

Contact Ehline Law Firm if you or a close loved one needs assistance navigating the complexity of pursuing a wrongful death suit for the actions of another, murder conviction or not.

Our wrongful death attorney in Los Angeles can assist you in obtaining just compensation for the tragic death of a loved one.

We recognize that no amount of money can make the agony of losing a loved one go away. However, we are also mindful that a wrongful death suit can assist wrongful death / murder victims with financial losses and other expenses.

Allow us to assist you at this trying time. You can rely on us to give the best legal advice available in your quest for economic justice. Learn more about forming an attorney-client relationship.

Call us at (213) 596-9642 or use the online contact form to schedule a free consultation to consider the legal options available to you regarding a wrongful death suit. 

Ehline Law Firm - Personal Injury Attorneys, APLC
Attorney at Law
Michael P. Ehline Esq,
Downtown Los Angeles Corporate Offices

Downtown Los Angeles Office
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Los Angeles, CA 90071

Ehline Law Firm - Personal Injury Attorneys, APLC
Attorney at Law

Michael P. Ehline Esq,

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