The terms wrongful death and homicide may seem similar, but they are actually very different. Here’s what you should know about the difference between homicide and wrongful death:
Civil vs. Criminal Case
A wrongful death is a civil matter, but a homicide is a criminal matter. A wrongful death lawsuit is filed by the victim’s family and their attorney. It is the state–not the victim’s family–that initiates a homicide case. However, the victim’s family may serve as witnesses in the homicide case.
In a criminal case, the state will attempt to prove that the defendant is guilty of homicide beyond a reasonable doubt. If the jury finds the defendant guilty, the defendant will face a number of different penalties for this crime. Since homicide is the most serious crime in Colorado, the defendant can be sentenced to life in prison or even the death penalty.
The defendant in a wrongful death case will not face these penalties even if it is proven that he is liable for the victim’s death. If the plaintiff proves that the defendant is liable for the victim’s death, the court will order the defendant to pay the victim’s family compensation for their loss.
The Intent Behind the Act
A wrongful death is a fatal accident caused by the negligence of the at-fault party. The person responsible for a wrongful death never intended on hurting anyone, but this is not the case with most homicide cases.
There are several different homicide laws in Colorado, including murder, manslaughter, criminally negligent homicide, and vehicular homicide. A person who has committed murder deliberately killed his victim, so the victim’s death was not an accident. However, a person who has committed manslaughter, criminally negligent homicide, or vehicular homicide did not act deliberately. Manslaughter is a death caused by reckless behavior, whereas criminally negligent homicide and vehicular homicide involve deaths caused by negligent behavior.
When Homicide and Wrongful Death Overlap
A person can be involved in both a homicide and wrongful death case at the same time. For example, let’s say an intoxicated driver kills your loved one and is charged with vehicular homicide. Since the driver’s negligent behavior killed your loved one, you have the right to file a wrongful death lawsuit. As a result, the driver could be involved in a homicide case in criminal court and a wrongful death case in civil court. The outcome of one case will not necessarily affect the outcome of the other. If the driver is found innocent in criminal court, for example, the victim’s family may still be able to prove he was liable in civil court in order to recover compensation.
If you have lost a loved one in a tragic accident, contact Reisch Law Firm at once. Let our compassionate attorneys guide you through the process of recovering compensation in a wrongful death claim. Schedule a free consultation today by calling 303-291-0555 or filling out this online form.