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How A Murder Charge & Wrongful Death Lawsuit Can Have Different Outcomes

Courthouse​When a person is charged with murder, it is important to understand the distinction between this charge and a wrongful death action. A murder charge is a type of criminal charge that carries criminal penalties with it. These penalties may include prison time, fines, probation and community service. Criminal defense lawyers handle these types of cases.

A wrongful death lawsuit enables the surviving members of a deceased person to bring a negligence action against a party who may be responsible for the death of that person under negligence principles. Personal injury lawyers, like Wheaton's Theisen & Roche Law Firm, handle civil cases for wrongful death.

Prime Example of Key Differences Between Murder Charges and a Wrongful Death Action

A key case to illustrate the differences between a murder charge and wrongful death action is the O.J. Simpson case. In that infamous case from the 1990s, former NFL athlete O.J. Simpson was acquitted for the murder of his wife, Nicole Brown. Even though he was acquitted of the murder charge, the family of Nicole Brown continued to bring a wrongful death action against O.J. Simpson.

In a criminal trial, a jury must find that a defendant is guilty of murder or another crime “beyond a reasonable doubt.” In a civil case, this standard changes. A jury must only find that a defendant was negligent in an act “beyond a preponderance of the evidence.” This standard is much easier to meet under the law and explains why surviving family members will often bring a wrongful death action against a person alleged to have committed a murder.

Success in Asserting a Wrongful Death Action

In the O.J. Simpson case, Nicole Brown's family was successful in asserting a wrongful death claim against Simpson. The civil jury unanimously found Simpson liable for battery and the wrongful death of Brown. The jury held that Simpson was liable for $33,500,000 in damages for the wrongful death of Brown. The main issue in awarding damages in these types of cases is whether one will be able to seize any of the assets of the negligent party. If a party goes to a great extent to hide his or her assets or use the law to his or her advantage, then it can be very difficult to obtain ownership of any of his or her assets. 

Despite the damages award in the Simpson case, Simpson has barely paid any of his fortune to the family. The family was unable to garnish any wages from his $28,000 pension or home. Simpson moved from California to Florida in order to obtain the benefit of homestead protection laws in the state. One should ensure that he or she has an experienced wrongful death lawyer if he or she intends on asserting this type of claim. One of the most difficult parts of a case is actually obtaining access to the damages that one has been awarded.

A More Recent Case in the Media

Another case that may also potentially involve a wrongful death action in the future is that of Clint Massey. Massey is a Chicago rapper known under the stage name “RondoNumbaNine.” The 17-year-old was allegedly involved in a shooting and has been charged with first-degree murder. He has been held in custody and was not given the option of satisfying $2 million bail amount to obtain a release.

In this case, the family of the livery driver killed in the shooting may choose to bring a wrongful death action against Massey. This could be a way for the family to obtain relief and a sense of justice in the event that Massey is acquitted of the murder charges, whether or not he is actually responsible for the crime.

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