Wrongful Death Damage Recoveries

Authored by , LegalMatch Law Library Managing Editor and Attorney at Law

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What Kind of Damages Can Be Recovered in a Wrongful Death Action?

Family members suing an individual for wrongful death usually can collect for: 

How Are Damages Calculated?

It can be difficult to determine how much a victim would have earned had he not died. To simplify the process, each state has adopted a life expectancy table to determine how long the victim would have lived, how many years he would have continued to work, and how long he would have lived in retirement, if applicable. Using the life expectancy table and the victim's earnings at the time of death, the Court or jury can then estimate the victim's loss of earnings and potential retirement benefits.

Why Is the Actual Award Less than the Estimate of Potential Losses?

Damages in wrongful death lawsuits are also difficult to calculate because of factors such as inflation. Assume the victim was making $1,000 at the time of death, and that the victim was expected to work for 10 more years. The natural instinct is to award the victim's family $10,000 for the loss of income over the next 10 years.

However, because of inflation, $10,000 today is worth more than $10,000 ten years in the future; a person can buy much more with $10,000 today than with $10,000 in ten years from now. Therefore, to award the victim's family $10,000 today would be over compensating the family. After all, if the victim had lived, the family would not receive the full $10,000 until 10 years from now, when the $10,000 is worth much.

Therefore, Courts will reduce the damages to present value in order to avoid over compensating a victim¿s family. In the example above, the actual damages that are awarded will be less than $10,000 but will equal the value of $10,000 ten years from now.

When Are Punitive Damages Available?

Punitive damages are only awarded in wrongful death lawsuits when the defendant's conduct was particularly bad; the purpose is to punish the defendant. Some examples may include cases where the defendant's conduct was intentional, malicious or egregious.

Do You Need a Lawyer Experienced in Wrongful Death Actions?

If your loved one died due to the actions of another, you should speak to a lawyer immediately to learn more about preserving your rights and remedies. The statute of limitations deadlines for filing a wrongful death action are strict, and a valid claim may be denied if the lawsuit is brought even one day late.

A lawyer will be able to explain the value of your case and help you navigate through the complicated legal process. An experienced lawyer will also help you calculate the extent of your monetary damages.

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Last Modified: 10-14-2011 04:02 PM PDT

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