Six Types of Damages Commonly Awarded in Wrongful Death Suits
When a loved one dies because of the reckless or negligent actions of another person, the grieving family members may hesitate to open a wrongful death case. They often believe that waging a lawsuit will only prolong their grief and will serve no discernible purpose. While it is true that no lawsuit or amount of money will ever make up for their devastating loss, the damages awarded in a wrongful death suit can help to lessen the financial burden that may have been placed on the family.
Damages refer to the financial value of a case. Though no value can ever be placed on a person's life, one wrongful death case may be of more monetary worth than another. For example, a case dealing with the death of an adult will be worth more financially than a case dealing with the death of a child. An adult brings in an income for his or her dependants, meaning that the financial burden resulting from his or her death will be much greater than that due to the loss of a child. There are three general categories of damages: economic, non-economic, and punitive.
Wrongful Death Damages
Each wrongful death case is unique, and there are different considerations and calculations involved in each lawsuit. However, there are several types of damages that are standard in wrongful death cases. They include:
- Medical Bills and Funeral Costs - In most cases of wrongful death, the deceased was given significant medical treatment before he or she died. Even an ambulance ride costs thousands of dollars, and, sadly, funerals can be exorbitantly expensive. These costs can place a great financial strain on an already grieving family. By awarding these economic damages to the family, the courts can help to alleviate the stress following a loved one's death.
- Loss of Income - This is one of the most significant types of economic damages awarded in a wrongful death case. When the deceased was a primary wage earner, his or her death can leave dependants with a vastly reduced income. To determine the right amount of damages, the courts will often bring in economists who will calculate the deceased's anticipated income for years to come, taking inflation, life expectancy, the victim's health, and other factors into consideration.
- Loss of Benefits - In addition to wages, the death of a working adult can deprive dependants of health care, pension plans, Social Security, and retirement benefits. Courts will calculate the probable financial total in awarding these economic benefits.
- Care of a Child - In the past, if the victim of a wrongful death was a stay-at-home parent, the family would receive little financial compensation for his or her death. Today, however, the courts recognize that the loss of a non-working parent can still put a huge financial toll on the family. Courts will calculate the costs of child care, housekeeping, and other domestic services that the family must obtain following the loss of their loved one.
- Survivors' Pain and Suffering - Pain and suffering damages are not always awarded in wrongful death cases. However, when they are given, they can be quite significant. These damages are intended to compensate surviving family members for their emotional distress following the death of their loved one. These non-economic damages are generally awarded in cases in which the survivor's suffering goes beyond grief and includes trauma or shock. For example, the court may award pain and suffering damages to someone who witnessed their loved one's death.
- Punitive Damages - These damages serve two purposes. First, they help bring a sense of wholeness to family members who are grieving because of another person's reckless actions. More significantly, punitive damages serve as a deterrent to future negligent action, much as a fine serves as a deterrent to criminal activity.
Find a Wrongful Death Lawyer
Calculating damages in a wrongful death case can be extremely complex, requiring legal and financial expertise, as well as a strong sense of compassion and justice. Finding an experienced attorney is vital to recovering the full amount of damages in a wrongful death suit.