Damages in Wrongful Death Lawsuits

Wrongful death is when an individual dies from injuries that were caused by the wrongful or criminal actions of another. The decedent’s family may file a claim for wrongful death. In some states, family members may be able to file a personal injury lawsuit on the decedent’s behalf as well. Every state has a wrongful death statute giving the decedent’s survivors a legal claim for wrongful death. The goal of these statutes is to protect loved ones. However, the specific conditions of states’ statutes may differ depending on the jurisdiction. Some conditions may be the amount of time family members have to file a wrongful death claim and the type or amount of damages that are permissible by statute. For this reason, it is important to speak to a personal injury attorney knowledgeable in wrongful death claims. An attorney in your area will be able to discuss the applicable law in your jurisdiction and help you learn more about your legal options.

When determining damages in a wrongful death case, generally, the court must look at monetary loss. The court may consider other types of loss, such as emotional loss; however, the loss must be one that can be calculated in order for the plaintiff (family member) to be compensated. Accordingly, some financial expenses of the decedent that the court will consider are the annual earnings (wages), the financial dependence of the family members on the deceased, the amount of the deceased’s savings, any other assets, medical costs and funeral costs. When looking at the decedent’s finances the court will also consider factors such as the deceased’s life expectancy (including overall heath), earning potential and the loss of household duties (including house care, child care and/or caring for other family member’s financial or living needs). In some cases, if the decedent was in school to prepare for a profession, the court may take that loss of future profession and increase in earning potential into consideration as well.

Likewise, the court may consider the plaintiff’s emotional loss when determining the amount of damages. Emotional harm is difficult for the court to quantify with a financial amount and many harms suffered cannot be compensated by monetary means. However, when trying to consider emotional damages, the court may examine the relationship between the decedent and the survivors and the contribution the deceased made to the household/family. Some factors may include loss of consortium or companionship, loss of parental direction and care and loss of affection. The amount of weight a court gives emotional loss and the financial compensation available will depend on the applicable law in your state.

Additionally, some jurisdictions allow plaintiffs to recover punitive damages in some circumstances. Punitive damages are monetary damages awarded to the plaintiff in addition to the compensatory damages (discussed above). The judge or jury makes the decision to award these types of damages based on the facts of the case. The intent is to punish, or penalize, the defendants for their behavior/actions. In many jurisdictions, the defendant’s actions must have been “reckless or malicious� in nature. To learn more about punitive damages, and if they are available in your state, speak to a personal injury attorney in your area.

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