Accidental Death or Wrongful Death? The Legal Difference

Accidental Death Not Always a Wrongful Death

The mere fact that there has been an accident does not necessarily mean that this is what is known in the law as “wrongful death.” Sometimes, an accident is just that: an accident. However, there are times when there is an accident, and it is an “accidental death,” but it is also a wrongful death. Consider the case of a man who was struck by vehicle, and was later discovered drowned in a nearby ditch. According to the news report, the man who was found drowned had been a passenger in a vehicle which had stopped beside the road. The passenger exited the vehicle and was struck by another vehicle on the road. The victim then began running and disappeared. His body was later discovered in a ditch filled with water. He had drowned.

From the Beaver County Times: “The death of an eastern Pennsylvania man whose body was found in a drainage ditch two days after an accident has been ruled an accidental drowning. Monroe County Coroner Bob Allen made the ruling Monday after an autopsy on the body of 19-year-old Corey Costenbader of Effort. Costenbader’s body was found Sunday submerged in a drainage ditch about 22 feet from where he was knocked down by a car Friday night near Saylorsburg. Read Story

There Must Be Fault to Make it a Wrongful Death Case

Now, it would appear that the fault lies entirely on the individual who had been struck, in this case Mr. Costenbader. While it is true that he was struck by a vehicle, it does not appear to be the fault of the driver. Therefore, there is not a “wrongful death” in the legal sense. But, if the driver of the vehicle who struck Mr. Costenbader is found to have been driving while intoxicated, or was speeding, or if there was some other reason suggesting that the driver was at fault, then this would be a wrongful death case. (see this article for example of a wrongful death case)

Just because there has been an accident in which a death occurs does not always mean that this accidental death is also a wrongful death. The only way you will know whether or not a wrongful death case in which you might have an interest, i.e, you have a loved one that was killed accidentally, is to speak with a lawyer who understands and has dealt with wrongful death issues.

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