Consider this scenario. A young man in an apartment building starts lighting matches for fun and accidentally starts a fire that burns the building down. A woman in another apartment dies and her family pursues a wrongful death lawsuit.
Who is the defendant for that wrongful death lawsuit?
While some people will say it’s the young man, the real answer is that we don’t have enough information to answer the question. There are far too many unknowns to make a determination yet.
It’s easy to consider the young man responsible for the death. On a moral level, he is to some degree. However, that’s not the purpose of a wrongful death suit, which is to collect damages for the surviving family members. If that young man has a lot of assets to his name, such as money or an insurance policy, he is worth including in the lawsuit. If he doesn’t, there is little purpose in trying to squeeze money out of him that he doesn’t have.
A competent attorney will investigate the matter further. Why did the fire spread so quickly? Was the building up to code? Were the smoke detectors working? Was the apartment building constructed improperly? Was the building manager warned about faulty safety equipment but never did anything to help?
We investigate to figure out what happened and what factors contributed to the tragedy. Even if the fire was set on purpose and the young man was arrested and prosecuted in the criminal court, the building owner could still be held responsible in a wrongful death case if he acted negligently, such as if it was shown that he allowed the fire escapes to rust up and fall apart.
Sometimes these cases go far down the rabbit hole. If we found out the smoke detector failed to work because of a faulty computer component inside of it, we may end up adding as defendants the smoke detector manufacturer and the company that made the smoke detector’s faulty component.
While moral guilt may belong to the young man, in a wrongful death suit, or any other personal injury suit, we pursue compensation from all negligent parties that contributed to the tragedy by failing to take reasonable precautions that could have protected people.