Strong Advocates
For the Injured And For A Safer Iowa

Differences Between Wrongful Death and Murder Cases

On Behalf of | Mar 28, 2019 | Personal Injury |

Wrongful death and murder cases are both responses to when someone dies due to another person’s action or inaction. However, the two cases are markedly different. Below are some of the areas in which wrongful death and murder differ.


A criminal court hears a murder trial, while a civil court hears a wrongful death trial. A criminal court hears cases about defendants who the government has accused of breaking the law. When a police officer arrests you for driving under the influence (DUI), a criminal court hears and decides your case.

A civil court, on the other hand, handles cases about disputes or disagreements that different parties have with each other. For example, if you claim that a neighbor has encroached on your property, a civil court will listen to your arguments and determine the true owner of the property.


Different actions are at the root of wrongful death and murder cases. A wrongful death case arises when someone’s conduct or lack of conduct leads to another person’s death. The action or inaction may be intentional or accidental (negligence) in the case of wrongful death.

Murder, however, takes place when a person intentionally acts or fails to act, and the action or inaction leads to another person’s death. The main difference between the two is that murder involves some degree of intent.

For example, if a robber attacks and kills their victim, the robber can face both a wrongful death claim and murder case. However, if a defective product accidentally kills someone, the producers of the product are more likely to face wrongful death claims than murder charges.


If a person dies at the hands of another person, the immediate family members or the representative of the deceased’s estate can file a wrongful death case. State laws determine who can file the lawsuit. In Iowa, the spouse, children (minors or adults), parents of the deceased, or the estate’s representative can file the wrongful death claim.

A murder case, on the other hand, is the purview of the government. A government prosecutor will file the murder charges even if the family members of the deceased don’t want to be involved in the case. However, the government cannot file a wrongful death claim on behalf of anyone.


In a murder case, the outcome is a guilty or not guilty verdict. In Iowa, the punishment for a murderer can be some years in prison or life imprisonment; the punishment depends on the circumstances of the case. For example, the age of the defendant and other mitigating and aggravating factors.

In a wrongful death claim, the court can either find the defendant liable for the damages or not liable for the damages. If the court finds the defendant liable for the damages, then the defendant has to compensate the plaintiff (typically the deceased’s estate). Damages include things like burial expenses, medical expenses, lost wages, and loss of value, among others.


Lastly, wrongful death and murder cases require different levels of burdens of proof. Murder is a serious criminal charge with grim consequences for the convicted. Therefore, the court requires a proof beyond a reasonable doubt to convict a defendant of murder. The accused may go free or face reduced charges if the prosecution cannot prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt.

In a wrongful death case, however, you need to prove a 51% chance that the defendant caused your loved one’s demise. For example, you may win a wrongful death case if the court only doubts 20% of your claims, which is not the case with a murder case.

To lose a loved one is one of the worst experiences anyone can ever have. A wrongful death settlement cannot replace your loved one, but it can help you in some ways (for example, to take care of other dependents). Galligan Law Firm can help you with your wrongful death case; contact us for a free initial evaluation of your case.