Fatalities are often the result of unfortunate accidents or negligence. In the United States, several laws protect people who have experienced the loss of a family member in an accident.
Wrongful death law applies to situations caused by the defendant’s conduct, which resulted in the death of the victim, and left behind family members or dependents who may suffer because of the victim’s absence.
Death statutes in the United States include recovery for which the immediate family members need to file a wrongful death claim or lawsuit. Such a lawsuit seeks compensation for the survivors’ loss.
Here are a few factors to help you know the value of a wrongful death lawsuit:
1. Type of Wrongful Death Lawsuit
In a typical wrongful death lawsuit, a decedent’s estate and the surviving family members are entitled to compensation for economic and noneconomic damages. But, if the accident took place at the workplace, then the family can only file a workers’ compensation claim, which might not include noneconomic damages. You should consult an experienced personal injury attorney for legal advice on the specifics of your case.
2. Economic Damages Sustained
Lawsuits related to wrongful death claims include pecuniary or financial damages as key factors to calculate the worth of the case. Pecuniary damages can be interpreted as compensation for loss of financial support, services, lost prospect of inheritance, and medical and funeral expenses. Further, economic damages for wrongful death can be measured in terms of the financial contribution that the family members would have received if the victim wasn’t killed. If the decedent contributed his/her income to support the family, then that income will be projected for his/her expected working life (including retirement and investment income) and added to the final amount.
Seek help from your personal injury lawyer to calculate these expenses and ensure that they are mentioned in the official document to be submitted in court. He/she can work with accountants and vocational experts to arrive at the exact number.
Some cases are also compensated for expenses that would not have happened, had the defendant been cautious. These expenses primarily include hospital, medical, funeral, burial, and estate administration expenses. Remember, not all cases are compensated for these expenses.
If your attorney can present convincing arguments to the judge or the jury, then the costs incurred may be reimbursed by the lawsuit. You may have to deal with the health insurance company handling your insurance or the Medicare/Medicaid authorities who might impose “subrogation” for the medical expenses they may have paid.
3. Noneconomic Damages
The demise of a person can disrupt familial relationships and create a financial burden on the deceased’s family members. As part of the wrongful death claim, the judge or jury will take into consideration the intangible losses sustained from the incident.
In legal terminology, “intangibles” are noneconomic contributions of the deceased that may be difficult to quantify monetarily. For example, if the victim had parental responsibilities toward his/her children, then his/her partner may be entitled to a higher recovery amount. Other losses that are often included in non-economic damages include:
- Loss of the care, protection, guidance, and nurturing from the deceased
- Damages for the survivors’ pain and suffering
- Loss of companionship
- Loss of consortium of a deceased spouse
One of the leading attorneys who has handled several wrongful death cases in Seattle says, “It is advisable for survivors filing wrongful death claims to seek legal aid, as they may not be fully aware of all the legal procedures. You need to know that claims allocated by the court may vary on a case-by-case basis. For instance, compensation on behalf of adult decedents who were single and did not have children can tend to be lower than awards for adults with spouse and children.”
4. Number of Claimants
In several cases of wrongful death, even those who aren’t closely related to the deceased maliciously fight for a share in the claim. As a result, the deserving family members receive a smaller amount than they deserve.
It is entirely upon the judge or the jury to limit the number of claimants in a specific case. If the nearest family member(s) isn’t available to receive the compensation, then a distant relative can file the claim. In case you aren’t a blood relative of the victim or aren’t financially dependent on him/her, then you may have to present sufficient evidence in court to prove that you’re eligible to receive the compensation.
Placing a monetary value to compensate for the loss of a human life is difficult. Such cases are challenging – each one involves unique aspects, facts, and requirements. The court tries to weigh the pros and cons of all these aspects before deciding the final amount. As a bereaved family member, it is going to be more difficult to handle the legal procedures. Hiring an experienced attorney can help you deal with the situation in an easier way.
— Contributor —
Matt Conner is an associate attorney at Brett McCandlis Brown Law Firm. Matt has undergraduate degree from from Willamette University in Salem in mathematics and economics. Matt likes playing soccer, fishing, skiing and camping.