If you’ve lost a loved one unexpectedly in a preventable manner, you know just how devastating the situation can be and how challenging it can be to move forward. When that happens, West Virginia law allows the surviving family members to come forward to seek compensation and justice for what happened with a wrongful death claim. However, the facts revolving around the death affect the type of claim that gets filed. Depending on the circumstances, it’s possible a manslaughter charge could be made. It’s important to understand the difference between the two, so you can give your family the best chance at a secure and stable future.
Defining Wrongful Death
According to West Virginia Code §55-7-5, a wrongful death is the result of negligence. These claims apply in situations where if the victim had survived, they would have had the right to file a personal injury claim to seek compensation for their losses. Common examples of situations that result in wrongful death include car accidents and dangerous premises.
Wrongful death is a civil wrong, as opposed to a crime. This means that instead of jail time, justice can only be expressed in the form of a monetary award. Compensation is typically broken down into economic and noneconomic damages, depending on the incurred losses.
Manslaughter Laws & Penalties in West Virginia
In general, manslaughter is defined as the unlawful killing of a person without malice. Malice is typically involved in first-degree murder cases. In West Virginia, manslaughter is separated in voluntary and involuntary; however, state laws do not outline specific definitions for the two categories. This is a factor that can complicate these criminal cases. It’s important to note that while a personal representative files a wrongful death claim, only the state has a right to file a manslaughter case.
Typically, voluntary manslaughter is understood to mean killing that occurs in the heat of passion with intense provocation. A common example used is when a person discovers their spouse is cheating on them with someone else and kills them. Involuntary manslaughter, which is more closely related to wrongful death, occurs when someone is killed as a result of reckless behavior or criminal negligence. Accidentally discharging a firearm and killing someone would be an example.
If someone is charged with voluntary manslaughter, they could face up to 15 years in prison, but no less than 36 months. An involuntary manslaughter charge has the potential to result in up to one year of jail time and up to $1,000 in fines.
Differences in Standards of Proof for Wrongful Death and Manslaughter
Civil cases and criminal cases require different standards of proof when it comes to achieving a successful outcome for the plaintiff. While civil cases only require a preponderance of evidence, criminal cases must involve proof that is beyond a reasonable doubt. The latter is significantly harder to prove.
With a preponderance of evidence, the judge or jury must believe the defendant is likely more than 50% responsible for someone’s wrongful death. In regard to manslaughter being beyond a reasonable doubt, there has to be convincing evidence that no reasonable person would question the defendant’s guilt.
Statutes of Limitations in West Virginia
Lawsuits are subject to the state’s statutes of limitations. The time limit is established by the type of claim. It’s imperative for the plaintiff to meet this deadline. If it’s not met, it’s likely the case will be thrown out of court if it’s filed, and the plaintiff will have rendered themselves ineligible for compensation or justice.
While there is a one-year time limit for involuntary manslaughter in West Virginia, there is no statute of limitations for voluntary manslaughter. With most wrongful death claims, the personal representative of the deceased person’s estate has two years from the date of death to file the claim.
When you work with an attorney, they’ll be sure you meet all the necessary deadlines, so you have the best chance at maximum recovery.
Get Help with a Wrongful Death Claim in Charleston
If you’ve lost a loved one because of someone else’s negligence, it’s important to understand the legal rights and options your family has to seek compensation for the related losses. Depending on the situation that resulted in your loved one’s passing, there’s a chance you could file a criminal lawsuit at the same time. When you work with DiPiero Simmons McGinley & Bastress, PLLC, our attorneys will help you pursue your claim and ensure your family has access to the resources to move forward securely. Contact us today for more information.