Wrongful death lawsuits are actions, generally based on a state statute, that allow the close relatives of a person who was injured and died as a result of a wrongful act to recover for lost financial and emotional support.
The wrongful act may be negligent, such as careless driving; reckless; or deliberate, such as an intentional murder. And the prosecution of the alleged wrongdoer under a criminal statute wrongful death law does not preclude a private, wrongful death suit.
The primary difference is that a murder case is criminal, while a wrongful death case is civil. A murder case is brought by the state, not the victims, and seeks to keep society safe. If the defendant loses a murder case, he or she will most likely go to prison.
By contrast, a wrongful death case is a civil lawsuit. In a wrongful death case, you’re seeking to redress a breach of the legal duty that the defendant owed to you -- not to society as a whole. You’re still seeking to hold him or her responsible for the death, but if you win the lawsuit, you will win money intended to compensate you for the effects of the death. Civil cases are considered easier to win than criminal cases. You may file a civil case in addition to any criminal case that your state is pursuing.
The most famous example of the difference between the two is the O.J. Simpson matter. Simpson was found not guilty of the criminal charges against him, but lost the civil trial filed against him by the family of an alleged victim.