How Difficult Is It To Prove Wrongful Death In Wisconsin?

January 30 , 2024 | Wrongful Death

In Wisconsin, as in many other states, wrongful death is a legal term that carries significant weight and complex implications. It refers to a death that has occurred due to the negligent or intentional actions of another party. While seemingly straightforward, this definition encompasses a range of scenarios – from medical malpractice to car accidents, from intentional acts of violence to workplace accidents. 

The legal implications of a wrongful death claim in Wisconsin are profound, as they allow the family of the deceased, or the estate, to seek compensation for their loss. 

However, the process of proving wrongful death in Wisconsin is fraught with challenges. Unlike criminal cases, where guilt must be established “beyond a reasonable doubt,” wrongful death claims fall under civil law, where the standard is typically a “preponderance of the evidence.” 

Even with this seemingly lower threshold, the hurdles to clear can be substantial. Proving causation –– often requires intricate legal and medical arguments. Moreover, wrongful death cases frequently involve combing through complex evidence, such as medical records or accident reports, and understanding the nuances of state statutes and case law.

Understanding Wrongful Death Claims in Wisconsin

To file a wrongful death claim in Wisconsin, certain criteria must be met. Primarily, it must be established that the death of a person was caused by the wrongful act or negligence of another. Additionally, there must be surviving beneficiaries or dependents who have suffered measurable damages due to the death. 

This could include immediate family members like spouses, children, or parents. The claim must also be filed within a specific time frame, known as the statute of limitations, which in Wisconsin is generally three years from the date of the incident. This timeframe underscores the urgency of seeking legal recourse in wrongful death cases

Key Statutes and Laws

Wisconsin’s approach to wrongful death is governed by a set of statutes that lay out the legal landscape for such claims. The primary statute, Wisconsin Statutes Section 895.04, is the cornerstone of wrongful death litigation in the state. This statute not only defines wrongful death but also outlines who may sue for damages, the types of damages that may be recovered, and the time limits for filing a claim. For example, under this statute, non-economic damages are capped, differentiating it from some other states where such caps may not exist.

Comparing Wisconsin’s wrongful death statutes with those of other states highlights certain unique aspects of Wisconsin’s legal approach. For instance, while many states have similar statutes of limitations, Wisconsin’s specific time frames and caps on certain types of damages make its legal landscape distinctive. This comparison is crucial as it not only accentuates Wisconsin’s unique legal stance on wrongful death but also underlines the importance for claimants to be well-informed about these state-specific laws and regulations.

The Burden of Proof in Wrongful Death Cases

In the realm of wrongful death cases in Wisconsin, as in other legal contexts, the concept of the “burden of proof” plays a pivotal role. This legal principle pertains to the obligation of a party in a trial to substantiate their claims with evidence. Essentially, it answers the question: Who must prove what? In wrongful death cases, this responsibility typically falls on the plaintiff – the party bringing the lawsuit, usually the family of the deceased or their legal representatives. It is their duty to prove that the death was indeed wrongful, as defined under Wisconsin law, meaning it resulted from another party’s negligent, reckless, or intentional actions.

The importance of the burden of proof in wrongful death cases cannot be overstated. It is the fulcrum upon which these cases pivot. The plaintiff must gather and present sufficient evidence to meet this burden, failing which the case may not even proceed to trial. This requirement underscores the need for meticulous preparation and comprehensive legal strategy, often involving gathering medical records, eyewitness accounts, expert testimonies, and other pertinent documents.

Standards of Proof

In legal proceedings, various standards of proof may be applied, each representing a different level of certainty required to satisfy the burden of proof. In Wisconsin wrongful death cases, the standard typically applied is the “preponderance of the evidence.” 

This standard is met if the plaintiff’s evidence shows that it is more likely than not that the defendant’s actions caused the death. In other words, there must be a greater than 50% chance that the plaintiff’s claim is true. This standard is markedly lower than the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard used in criminal trials, which requires proving the defendant’s guilt with a much higher degree of certainty.

The application of the preponderance of the evidence standard in wrongful death cases in Wisconsin is crucial because it makes these cases more accessible to plaintiffs. It acknowledges the challenges inherent in proving causation and fault in death-related cases and sets a realistic threshold for families seeking justice. 

However, it also means that the outcome of these cases can hinge on the effectiveness with which each piece of evidence tilts this balance of probabilities. As such, wrongful death cases in Wisconsin require a deep understanding of not only the substantive law but also the art of evidence presentation and narrative construction in the courtroom.

The burden of proof is a  fundamental element in wrongful death cases in Wisconsin. It frames the legal challenge faced by plaintiffs – to compile and present evidence that convincingly demonstrates the defendant’s liability. Understanding these concepts is essential for anyone involved in or affected by a wrongful death case, as they dictate the strategies and expectations for pursuing justice in these deeply tragic and often complex legal battles.

Challenges in Proving Wrongful Death

One of the most daunting aspects of proving wrongful death in Wisconsin is the gathering of evidence. This evidence must be compelling enough to meet the burden of proof under the preponderance of the evidence standard. Various types of evidence are pivotal in wrongful death cases, including medical records, which can demonstrate the cause of death and link it to the defendant’s actions. Witness testimony is equally crucial, providing firsthand accounts of the incident or the defendant’s behavior. Other forms of evidence might include video footage, police reports, and records of communications.

However, collecting and preserving this evidence presents several challenges. Medical records, for instance, must not only be comprehensive but also interpreted correctly to establish a link between the defendant’s actions and the death. In cases like medical malpractice, this can be incredibly complex, requiring an understanding of medical procedures and standards of care. 

Similarly, witness testimony, while valuable, can be subject to memory biases or interpretation issues. The effectiveness of evidence, like video footage, can hinge on its quality and the angle of view. Moreover, there’s the challenge of gathering this evidence in a timely manner, ensuring its preservation and admissibility in court.

Legal Hurdles

Legal hurdles in wrongful death cases in Wisconsin further complicate the process. One significant hurdle is the statute of limitations. In Wisconsin, a wrongful death claim must generally be filed within three years of the date of the incident.. This timeframe can be challenging, especially in cases where the link between the death and the defendant’s actions isn’t immediately apparent. Missing this deadline can bar the claim entirely, regardless of the strength of the evidence.

Defendants in wrongful death cases can employ various strategies to defend themselves. Common defenses include arguing that the deceased person’s actions contributed to their death (contributory negligence) or that an intervening event was the true cause of death. Successfully countering these defenses requires a strategic presentation of evidence and often hinges on the plaintiff’s ability to preempt and dismantle these arguments.

Role of Expert Witnesses

The importance of expert testimony in wrongful death cases cannot be overstated. Expert witnesses, such as medical professionals, accident reconstruction specialists, or occupational safety experts, provide critical insights that can clarify complex issues, establish standards of care, and link the defendant’s actions to the death. Their testimony can often be the linchpin in proving the case, especially in situations involving technical details that laypersons may not easily understand.

However, finding and presenting expert witnesses is fraught with challenges. First, there’s the task of identifying experts who are not only knowledgeable in their field but also effective communicators. The testimony of an expert who cannot convey complex ideas in a clear, understandable manner may be less compelling. Furthermore, the opposing party will likely have their own experts, which can lead to a battle of credibility and expertise in the courtroom. Preparing for and countering the opposing experts’ testimony is a critical part of the legal strategy in wrongful death cases.

Role of Attorneys in Wrongful Death Cases

The complexity of wrongful death cases in Wisconsin underscores the importance of competent legal representation. An experienced Wisconsin wrongful death attorney plays a crucial role in navigating the intricacies of such cases. They provide not only the necessary legal expertise but also guidance through a process that can be emotionally and technically challenging for the bereaved family. A wrongful death attorney will manage all aspects of the case, from gathering and analyzing evidence to negotiating with insurance companies and representing the family in court.

When choosing a wrongful death attorney, there are several key factors to consider. Foremost is experience in handling wrongful death cases, which indicates familiarity with the specific challenges and legal nuances of such cases. It’s also essential to assess the attorney’s track record in similar cases, including settlements and verdicts. Communication skills are equally crucial; the attorney should be approachable and able to explain legal complexities in understandable terms..

The Litigation Process

Understanding the step-by-step breakdown of the legal process in Wisconsin is crucial for anyone involved in a wrongful death lawsuit. The process typically begins with an initial consultation, where the attorney evaluates the case’s merits. Once representation is established, the attorney will start a thorough investigation to gather evidence, which may involve obtaining medical records, interviewing witnesses, and consulting experts.

The next step is filing a wrongful death claim, typically in a state court. This claim outlines the basis of the lawsuit, including the allegations against the defendant and the damages sought. After the claim is filed, the discovery phase begins, where both parties exchange information and evidence. This phase is critical and can involve depositions, requests for documents, and further evidence gathering.

As the case progresses, there may be pre-trial motions, where either party can ask the court to rule on certain aspects of the case, potentially even seeking to dismiss the case entirely. If the case is not settled or dismissed, it proceeds to trial. During the trial, both sides present their evidence and arguments, after which a judge or jury makes a decision.

The timeline for a wrongful death lawsuit in Wisconsin can vary significantly depending on the case’s complexity, the court’s schedule, and whether the case is settled out of court. From filing the lawsuit to reaching a settlement or verdict, the process can take anywhere from several months to a few years. Key milestones include the completion of the discovery phase, pre-trial motions, and, if necessary, the trial itself. It’s important to note that many wrongful death cases are settled out of court, which can significantly shorten the timeline.

Navigating the legal system in wrongful death cases in Wisconsin requires a deep understanding of the legal process and the strategic use of legal resources. The role of a skilled attorney is indispensable, guiding the family through each stage of the lawsuit and striving to achieve a just outcome. Understanding the litigation process, from the initial filing to the potential trial, helps families set realistic expectations and prepare for the journey ahead in their pursuit of justice.

Contact Our Wisconsin Wrongful Death Attorney

Losing a loved one due to someone’s negligence can be overwhelming, with lasting impacts on your life. Secure your path to recovery and justice with Martin Law. Our experienced Wisconsin wrongful death lawyer, Mr. Martin, combines legal prowess and medical insight to ensure you get the best possible settlement. Contact our experienced Wisconsin wrongful death attorney by calling (414) 856-4010.