Sensationalism sells, and all too often, news headlines will disregard accuracy in favor of words that illicit more shock, excitement, or interest. Such words, especially words that deal with fatal accidents or other deaths, may be used interchangeably even when their definitions do not match the scenarios outlined in the story. Here are four words that you’ve probably seen misused in local, regional, or international new stories:
Manslaughter is a specific type of death that occurs in the absence of any human forethought or malice. Essentially, the death occurred because of the negligent or delinquent act of a human being, but that person had no intention of causing the death. Manslaughter is often seen as a subcategory of wrongful death in that human wrongdoing is the cause. However, the two terms aren’t interchangeable; manslaughter may be a form of wrongful death and may even result in a related lawsuit, but not all such deaths are manslaughter.
Often used when discussing any death that was unintended or accidental, wrongful death is actually a very specific legal term that indicates a legal action taken against a party thought to be at fault for causing a death. Subsequent lawsuits are filed in civil court and are a second course of action if a criminal trial either did not occur or was unsuccessful. Such deaths are those that occurred as a result of either intentional actions, such as negligence or reckless driving, or the result of intentional actions, like assault, manslaughter, or even murder. These deaths, while they may not have been intentional on the part of the perpetrator, were not accidental; these deaths occurred because of a wrongful act on the part of another person and shouldn’t be confused with deaths that were purely the result of an accident.
In contrast to the aforementioned type of death, accidental deaths are any deaths that may be attributed to accidental, non-natural causes. Accidental deaths may be the result of events like traffic collisions, slipping and/or falling, animal attacks, or even unintended poisoning. Often used interchangeably with the terms “natural death” or “death from natural causes,” accidental deaths occur when unforeseen or unanticipated events result in a fatality.
Natural deaths, in contrast to accidental deaths, are deaths that occur from either known or unknown and sometimes preventable causes like heart disease or diabetes. Additionally, natural deaths differ from the accidental or wrongful varieties in that there is no wrongful act on the part of any one person that led to the death or accident — they simply occurred naturally.
Ultimately, any death is a tragedy. However, with proper knowledge, it’s easier to read past the shocking headlines and understand the true details of news stories.
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