Pursuing a legal case in your loved one’s death

5 min read

When grief and justice intersect

  • If your loved one died as a result of a crime, an accident, or negligence, you may have grounds to sue those you believe are responsible.

  • You may also be a part of a criminal prosecution led by law enforcement and the state.

  • It is crucial to seek the advice of a lawyer to understand the challenges you will face.

  • Make sure you understand the emotional and financial toll involved—and the likelihood of legal victory—before you begin.

  • Whatever the outcome, you may discover that real peace is something you find outside the legal system.

Grief can bring many emotions: sadness, anger, anxiety, guilt, uncertainty, and even resentment. It’s a lot for anyone to grapple with, no matter the circumstances. It can be even more difficult and complicated if you feel someone else is responsible for your loved one’s death. In this case, you may feel an intense desire to pursue justice.

Whether your loved one died in an accident or through malice, pursuing legal repercussions on their behalf can be long, arduous, and emotionally taxing. Some people decide that going through it is not the right choice for their family or their circumstances. No matter what avenue you decide to take, it is normal to struggle with the feeling that the whole situation is unfair.

Seeking legal consequences

You may be able to seek a wrongful death lawsuit if your loved one’s death was the result of a crime or if it was caused by accident or negligence. Winning or settling such a case can provide you and your family with both a financial settlement and a sense of closure.

Keep in mind that the courts may not see your case the way you do—and this can be a lengthy and taxing way to get justice for your loved one.

If you think that you have a legal case to pursue in the death of your loved one, get the advice of a lawyer familiar with your type of case. Your lawyer will be able to walk you through the process and help you decide whether it is worth the time, money, and emotional toll it may take.

Pursuing criminal charges

The other common way a family might receive some closure is through the criminal justice system, in which the state tries to prove that the death of your loved one was a crime. While the family may be involved and invested in a murder or manslaughter case, it is up to the state to decide whether to pursue these charges.

The process can often be painful, public, and lengthy. Because the proceedings are left up to a judge and jury, you might want to prepare for an outcome that does not feel like justice to you. You will want to have a support system—lawyers, therapists, and close friends and family—to guide you through this extremely trying time.

When “legal justice” doesn’t feel right

It is, of course, perfectly acceptable to decide that seeking legal repercussions will be too overwhelming, taxing, or simply unfulfilling for you and your family. Your grief and mourning are valid, and if you think legal proceedings will not provide you with solace or might actually make things feel worse, it is OK to process your feelings of injustice through different means. 

Perhaps you feel more drawn to some kind of mediation, involving an unbiased third party to help you reach a financial or emotional resolution with the person who you believe caused your loved one’s death.

Maybe you want to pour your efforts into making sure that nobody ever dies in the same way again, by working to put necessary safeguards in place.

You also may want to wrestle with your emotions privately with a mental health professional like a therapist.

All of these are good, valid choices. The only thing to avoid is keeping the feelings of injustice and resentment bottled up, so that you seethe silently. Make sure you are finding a way to figure out what justice means to you.

If justice eludes you

Many people find that the actionable courses of justice do not give them the sense of peace they thought they would.

Whether it is because legal proceedings did not go favorably or because you don’t feel that they brought you closure after all, it is normal to feel like things are still unsettled. After all, you have experienced a traumatic event, and it is typical to question whether there is any real justice in the world.

It is important to lean on your close family and friends, and maybe even seek outside help, to process all the emotions you are feeling. Grief is never easy, but when it is sudden and unexpected, it can be exceptionally complex.

Having another person to blame may be a convenient place to focus these emotions, but that does not necessarily mean that getting justice would have made the feelings go away.

Instead, ask yourself what real healing would feel like. Is it some elusive form of closure, or is it something else entirely? Only you can answer this question, but pursue it with as open a mind as possible. Take care of yourself in any and every way you can, be patient with yourself, and be sure you are giving yourself the time you need to really process what happened.

You may be eligible for free bereavement support. Empathy can help with everything from funeral planning to estate administration, with step-by-step guidance and real-time expert support. Many people get free premium access to Empathy as a benefit with their life insurance claim. We partner with New York Life, Guardian Life Insurance Company, Bestow, Lemonade, and other leading carriers. When you make your life insurance claim, talk to your representative about whether Empathy is a benefit they offer.