Groups » How Lawyers Can Save Their Clients from Wrongful Death Allegations

A wrongful death occurs when one person’s negligence leads to another person’s death. The surviving family members of the victim have the legal right to sue the negligent person and claim compensation for the damages suffered by them. According to, “A wrongful death claim is applicable when a victim who would otherwise have a personal injury claim is killed as a result of either negligence or an intentional harmful act on the part of the defendant.”

However, often the defendant is falsely accused of wrongful murder, either intentionally or due to a misunderstanding. Let’s consider the 1984 case of Darryl Hunt. The African-American man from North Carolina was convicted at the age of nineteen for the rape and murder of a white woman. Despite having no physical evidence against him, Hunt was sentenced to life imprisonment by an all-white jury. Ten years later, he was cleared of the rape charge, thanks to the DNA testing that proved he never committed the crime. However, he was vindicated only in 2004 after a man named Willard Brown confessed to both the acts.

Wrongful death allegation cases can last for years before the defendant finally gets justice. However, time is a crucial factor. Besides, these cases need special treatment. According to Dean Brett, a Washington injury lawyer, wrongful death cases are different. Lawyers must help their clients get their lives back on track and provide the support they need, even after the client gets exonerated.

Below are a few things personal injury lawyers need to consider to defend their clients in a wrongful death case.

Wrongful Death Defenses

A typical wrongful death case involves three players – the decedent or the victim, the defendant (the person held liable for the wrongful death), and the beneficiary. If the victim dies due to the wrongful conduct of the defendant, the beneficiary has the right to file a wrongful death case. It is the duty of the beneficiary’s lawyer (or the state lawyer’s in lieu of a beneficiary) to prove in the court that the defendant was actually responsible for the victim's death.

However, an experienced lawyer can help the defendant clear the allegations if they are false. Here are some of the most common defenses lawyers use to defend their clients:

1. Causation

In order to prove fault in a wrongful death case, the plaintiff must prove that the defendant’s conduct was the direct or proximate cause of the decedent’s death. Thus, a link between the defendant’s conduct and the injury must be established. If no link can be established, then the defendant can walk free.

For instance, if the decedent failed to exercise reasonable care in obtaining treatment for the injury after a car accident, then the defendant’s conduct will not be considered as the proximate cause of the death; rather the decedent’s own actions will be considered as the proximate cause of the death.

2. Contributory Negligence

Contributory negligence refers to the conduct by the decedent that contributed to his or her own death. According to the law, an individual has the duty to act reasonably. If an individual fails to act that way and gets injured as a result, then he/she may be held entirely or partially responsible for the resulting injury.

For instance, if a person rides a bicycle in the dark with no helmet, brakes or light reflectors, he can get struck/injured or even killed by another vehicle. In this case, the decedent’s own conduct will be responsible for his/her death. Thus, contributory negligence is established and the beneficiaries are barred from receiving recovery.

3. Self Defense

Self-defense allows the defendant to claim that he/she acted to prevent the deceased person from killing or gravely injuring the defendant or a loved one. This defense mostly works for individual defendants and not corporations or other entities. The defendant must be able to prove that he/she was in imminent danger of immediate harm. The defendant must also prove that his/her actions were not negligent, but intentional in order to prevent the danger or harm.

4. Statute of Limitations

There is a specific statute of limitations for specific types of cases. For instance, the statute of limitations for wrongful death cases in Washington is three years from the date of the death. This means the plaintiff must file a case within this period or the case will be considered invalid.

If the plaintiff waits too long before moving the court, the defendant can benefit from the violation of the state’s statute of limitations. However, if the plaintiff is eligible to file a case under the “discovery rule” exception, then it may become difficult for the defendant to use the statute of limitations as a defense.

5. Assumption of Risk

This defense is effective when the decedent is said to have known that participation in the activity could lead to imminent harm. Assumption of risk can only be used by a defendant who can prove that the decedent knew about the dangers of participating in the activity.

For instance, if a person participates in adventure sports despite being fully aware that the sport can be life-threatening, then the person himself will be considered liable for the injuries or death that may have resulted from the participation. However, the defendant must be able to prove that he/she or the organizers of the event educated the decedent about the possible threats before accepting participation.

Remember, the assumption of risk defense cannot be used in many states. It is always better to consult an experienced lawyer before using this defense for clearing the wrongful allegations.


While most death accusations turn out to be true, there have been instances when misunderstanding or improper evidence have led to false or wrongful allegations. Some wrongful death allegations are made intentionally to defame an individual. Experienced lawyers can help victims of false wrongful death allegation clear their name with the above defenses. However, proper information needs to be provided to help the lawyers plan the right defense.

There can be other defenses to specific cases as well. Lawyers need to study the case intricately and come up with the most effective defense to make sure their clients win and justice is served.

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