What factors are considered when deciding appropriate damages for a wrongful death suit?

Damages in a Wrongful Death ClaimA wrongful death claim is a type of personal injury case designed to seek compensation for family members whose loved one is killed as the result of negligence or misconduct by another party. Wrongful death cases are initiated by the immediate family members, such as a spouse, domestic partner, children, or possibly parents.  The purpose is to seek damages for the losses suffered related to the victim's death.

Types of Damages in a Wrongful Death Claim

Reimbursable expenses are those which are easily verified. In a wrongful death claim, these include medical expenses up to the time of death and associated funeral and burial costs. Losses can also include the loss of financial support the deceased person contributed to the family members left behind.

Damage amounts which may be recovered by the estate and/or family members as a result of the victim's death, include:

  • Age. A person in the prime of their life with an established earnings record will result in a higher economic recovery then someone near the end of their average life expectancy, or someone young with no history of earnings.
  • Physical health. If the victim had a medical condition that could reasonably have been expected to shorten his or her life expectancy, this may be taken into consideration.
  • Occupation. The value of lost wages assigned to the estate is higher when a victim is employed in a higher earning occupation.
  • Future earning capacity. Victims who were young, educated professionals in fields with a strong opportunity for professional advancement will have highest values assigned to their cases due to the likelihood that their earning capacity would have continued to increase each year. If the victim was a child, assumptions about education and future earning potential are made using statistical tables that take various demographic characteristics into account, but if there is no expectation of support by the child for the parents, then there is no loss of support suffered by the parents.
  • Value of care provided to others. If the victim was a parent with young children or the caretaker for an elderly family member, the fair market value of this uncompensated labor is considered wages for the purpose of calculating a claim.
  • Value of financial support provided to others. If the victim provided financial support to a spouse, parent, child, or other relative, the value of this support can be considered in calculating the claim.

Punitive damages are damages which are awarded solely to punish the defendant for serious misconduct that demonstrates a disregard for the wellbeing of others. Punitive damages are fairly rare in wrongful death cases, with the exception of claims involving nursing homes, elder abuse or product liability claims.  The are some instances when a traffic collision can result in the recovery of punitive damages.

Effect of Policy Limits

In personal injury cases involving a large multi-national corporation's liability for a defective product, collectability of a settlement is generally not an issue. Large corporations are extremely well insured so insurance coverage is not a serious consideration.

Unfortunately, when you are dealing with a small business or a private individual, policy limits will often play a key role in the settlement process. Even if you have a solid case to argue for substantial damages, you can only collect up to the policy's limits unless other assets from the defendant are available to fund a settlement.

Keep in mind that negligence awards can typically be discharged in a bankruptcy suit. This means that pushing for an award that is too excessive for the defender's resources may be a waste of time and energy.

Effect of Tax Liability

Wrongful death settlements are generally non-taxable if the payments are intended to compensate for the pain and suffering experienced by the victim and his family members. If the damages are intended to be punitive, they are taxable. It is recommended that you consult with an experienced certified public accountant if you have questions about your tax liability and how this affects the fairness of a settlement offer.

Protecting Your Right to Compensation

The best way to protect your right to compensation in a wrongful death claim is to retain the services of an experienced attorney. Your attorney can line up evidence to support your case and negotiate with the insurance company on your behalf.

The experienced legal team at Inland Empire Law Group is committed to helping California residents seek compensation following the death of a loved one due to another party's negligence. Call today to schedule a free, no-obligation case review at either our Victorville or Rancho Cucamonga location.