Understanding the Key Differences Between Murder and Wrongful Death in Austin

For people who haven't had much experience with the legal system, the question of wrongful death vs. murder is almost as confusing as the age-old chicken and the egg debate. They both involve a completely unnecessary death, but how are they different? 

The most basic difference between a wrongful death claim and a murder case is that murder is handled in criminal court and wrongful death is handled in civil court. This means the state of Texas would accuse someone of the crime of murder and bring them to trial. The victim’s family typically brings forth a wrongful death case. Punishment is also different. If you are convicted of murder, the usual sentence involves some kind of prison time. If you are found guilty in a wrongful death suit, you will owe the victim's family money. 

It is possible for a person to be tried in a criminal trial and a civil trial; a famous example of this is the O.J. Simpson trial. Simpson was famously found not guilty in his criminal trial, but after that ended, the families of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman requested a civil trial. In civil trials, the burden of proof is much less than in a criminal trial; civil trials require at least a 50.1 percent probability that someone is guilty, while criminal trials require it to be beyond a reasonable doubt. Simpson was held liable in the wrongful death suit and was ordered to pay $8.5 million in compensatory damages to Ronald Goldman's family, $12.5 million in punitive damages to Ronald Goldman's estate, and $12.5 million in punitive damages to Nicole Brown Simpson's estate. 

It is also common for someone to be held liable in a wrongful death suit, but not have any criminal charges. An example of this would be if a doctor unintentionally gave a patient the incorrect dosage of medicine, which ended up resulting in their death. The doctor was not trying to murder the person, but their negligent actions did cause their death. 

Wrongful death cases in Austin can be tricky and usually benefit from the legal expertise of a local attorney. If you think you have a wrongful death suit on your hands, contact Austin attorney Earl Straight for a free consultation at 512-454-1331.