Death of Transgender Woman Under Custody of ICE Highlights Wrongful Death Rule
If you have been following the news, you may have heard about the high-profile case of transgender woman Roxsana Hernandez who died in suspicious circumstances while in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) custody. While the case was being investigated, the video surveillance footage of the incident was scrubbed.
What is interesting about that case is the wrongful death lawsuit filed by the Transgender Law Center on behalf of the Honduran migrant. The LGBT community is always among the most vulnerable to hate crimes, and advocacy groups are working hard to make sure they are protected.
However, this article will expound on a wrongful death suit. What is it, and how would you know if you have a rightful claim?
What is Wrongful Death?
According to law, the surviving family members can file a wrongful death claim when an individual dies under the direct or indirect actions of the defendant. It does not matter whether the actions are deliberate or a result of negligence.
Although wrongful death is a civil lawsuit, it does not preclude the state attorney from filing a criminal charge against the defendant. The prosecutor may assess that the offense is grave enough to warrant jail time.
You can read the story of Hernandez here for the full details.
How Do You Know if You Have a Case?
As in the case of Hernandez, a member of the LGBT community, the Transgender Law Center believed that ICE is responsible because the asylum seeker was under their care when she died.
There are typically four elements that would be evaluated in a wrongful death case:
- Negligence — In this element, the intent is not essential. If the estate can prove that the death was caused directly and indirectly by carelessness, recklessness, and negligence, they can file a case against the defendant.
- Breach of responsibility/duty — You will prove that the defendant is the primary person of authority who had responsibility for the care of the deceased. You also have to prove that they did not perform their duties to the best of their ability.
- Causation — The attorneys representing the deceased would have to prove that the connection between the defendant’s actions led to the death. They must determine “the how.”
- Damages — The damages refer to the monetary value such as hospitalization, therapy, burial costs, loss of potential income, and pain and suffering of the deceased.
The cost of damages to be awarded can be substantial, especially if the victim suffered before their death. For instance, the Chicago Tribune reported on the Cook County jury awarding $10 million to the family of Patrick Vizzone in a wrongful death lawsuit. The jury believed that the Rush University Medical Center doctors did not fulfill their duty to improve the condition of Vizzone, who died of cardiac arrest.
What Must You Prove?
As with all cases you will bring before the court, your legal representation should prove that the plaintiff is guilty. The accuser has the burden of proof, and you can do this through the preponderance of the evidence.
Each state has a different definition of burden of proof. However, if you are only filing a civil lawsuit (which is wrongful death), the burden of proof is not “beyond a reasonable doubt,” as in the case of a criminal charge. You only need to prove that the defendant’s actions more likely than not caused the death. Ultimately, you need an experienced and competent lawyer to represent you to have a chance of winning your case.