Family members suing an individual for wrongful death usually can collect for:
- Medical and funeral expenses
- Loss of earnings
- Loss of benefits
- Loss of inheritance due to untimely death
- Loss of care, protection, and companionship to survivors
- Pain and suffering to the survivors
- Punitive damages, if the conduct was intentional, malicious, or egregious
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. These tables are designed to determine:
- How long the victim would have lived
- How many years the victim would have continued to work
- How long the victim 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?
In addition to the factors above, damages in wrongful death lawsuits are also difficult to calculate because of inflation. For example, suppose a victim of wrongful death was making $1,000 at the time of their death, and that 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 now than $10,000 would be ten years in the future. In other words, a $10,000 award based on the future potential of $10,000 being earned would be more valuable today than the victim actually would have made. Therefore, to award the victim's family $10,000 today would be overcompensating the family.
Thus, courts will reduce the damages to “present value” in order to avoid overcompensating 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 over the course of 10 years.
When Are Punitive Damages Available?
The purpose of punitive damages is to punish the defendant, so these types of damages are only awarded in wrongful death lawsuits when the defendant's conduct was particularly bad. Typically, punitive damages may be available in cases where the defendant's conduct was intentional, malicious or egregious.
Do You Need a Lawyer?
If your loved one died due to the actions of another, you should speak to a personal injury 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 help you calculate the amount of damages you may expect, explain the merits of your case, and help you navigate through the complicated legal process.