Determining Damages for Wrongful Death

When a family member dies due to the negligence of another person or group, the surviving family may be entitled to compensation. They may file a wrongful death lawsuit on behalf of the deceased to collect damages.

Wrongful death damages differ from personal injury damages. It is very unlikely to claim money for any pain and suffering. Instead, the focus shifts to the actual and potential future costs of the loss on the surviving family.

Actual costs may be any direct expense related to the death. This may include medical expenses accrued prior to death. It may also include funeral expenses or other after-death expenses. Future costs represent the loss of income or care the person provided to the surviving family. This tends to be rather subjective and is generally based on what evidence the surviving family can bring related to the person’s life and income. In general, the person’s current salary or annual income is projected until retirement age, if applicable. The loss of retirement packages and current or likely future benefits are also considered.

A less economic-focused approach is to argue a loss of care or companionship. Similar to pain and suffering, it is difficult to put a price tag on this, but the court does its best to weigh the loss. For example, a husband and father of several young children who was active and vital in his family life will likely represent a greater loss than a divorced parent with inconsistent child support payments.

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