Unlike other lawsuits, wrongful death claims are inevitably made on behalf of another. As the name indicates, the suit is based on a claim that the deceased died due to the defendant's negligence, or worse.
There are two general categories of damages awarded in such lawsuits, pecuniary and punitive. Pecuniary, or financial, damages attempt to calculate the financial value of a particular life while punitive damages serve as a punishment to the defendant. Let's take a look at both types here.
Pecuniary damages are more commonly rewarded than punitive damages. They cover financial loss, but not just the obvious expenditures arising from a death, such as medical or funeral expenses. Plaintiffs also can show loss of support and services, such as loss of parental guidance or spousal support.
Damages are determined based on a number of factors. The plaintiff presents information on the age, health, work, and other life circumstances of the deceased prior to death. Often, expert witnesses are brought in to establish how the calculations are made. The experts explain to a court or jury why a particular amount in pecuniary damages is due and how the figure was reached.
Experts establish the financial prospects and needs of the deceased. These figures are based on past earnings and circumstances and projected into the future based on a normal life expectancy. Needs also impact damages awards, so whether the deceased had children is a factor in determining and what the loss of that person is worth in financial terms.
Where the death arises from an egregious harm or a willful or malicious wrong, some states will allow punitive damages in wrongful death claims. But some states explicitly bar punitive damages in such lawsuits, and generally speaking punitive damage awards are less common.
Consult With Counsel
If you lost a partner or parent and want to find out whether you have a wrongful death claim, speak to an attorney. A lawyer will help you make sense of the case, the process, and any damages claims you might make, and it costs nothing to consult.