What is a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?

A wrongful death lawsuit is a legal action seeking compensation for damages resulting from the death of a spouse or family member, caused by someone else’s careless, reckless, or intentionally harmful conduct. Technically, a wrongful death action is a separate and distinct lawsuit from what is known as a “survival” lawsuit, which seeks compensation for harm inflicted on someone who subsequently died because of that harm.

What Damages Can I Get from a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?

Practically, the two types of lawsuits — wrongful death and survival — often get filed together as a single legal action. This has led to a blurring of the pre-death/post-death distinction between the two legal actions in many states. This page discusses the kinds of damages a party can recover in a typical joint wrongful death/survival lawsuit. Keep in mind that every state has its own particular laws when it comes to these legal actions, so it is important to consult with an experienced wrongful death attorney to learn what damages you may have the right to recover. 

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Economic Damages

In all wrongful death actions, injured parties can seek compensation for economic damages, also called monetary or special damages. These consist of fixed expenses which came about from the injuries that resulted in death and from the death itself. The types of economic damages available, as well as the threshold for the amount that can be awarded for those damages, differ between states. These economic damages include:

  • Any medical expenses the deceased person incurred before death
  • Any wages the deceased person lost before death by missing work
  • Any other accident or injury related expenses accumulated before death
  • Funeral and burial costs
  • The loss of the deceased person’s future income and employment benefits (such as health insurance and pension benefits)
  • The loss of potential inheritance by the deceased
  • The monetary value of goods and services the deceased would have provided  

Non-Economic Damages

In some wrongful death lawsuits, the injured parties can also seek compensation for non-economic damages, also known as non-monetary or general damages. They consist of the personal and emotional harm suffered by the deceased and those the deceased left behind. The availability of these damages widely vary from state-to-state, so it’s important to speak with an experienced wrongful death attorney to figure out which type of damage you may have the right to recover. Non-economic damages include:

  • The deceased’s physical pain, emotional suffering and diminished quality of life before death
  • A surviving spouse’s or family member’s physical pain, emotional suffering and diminished quality of life after the death
  • Loss of the love, society, protection, comfort, companionship, guidance, nurture, advice, training, or education that would have been provided by the deceased
  • Loss of a spouse’s consortium with the deceased
  • Loss of the deceased’s services and assistance (like childcare and household work) 

Punitive Damages in a Wrongful Death Lawsuit

Death constitutes the ultimate harm that a wrongful action can inflict upon an individual. Sometimes, the behavior resulting in a wrongful death is a violent crime. In other circumstances, the conduct did not amount to a crime, but nevertheless consisted of decisions and actions that were so outrageous, wanton, or reckless that they deserve special penalty. In these cases, a court may award punitive, also known as exemplary, damages to the parties who bring a wrongful death lawsuit. These damages aim to punish the wrongful actions and to set an example to deter similar dangerous behavior by others from occurring in the future. 

Who Can be Awarded Damages in a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?

States vary in defining who has the right to receive damages in a wrongful death lawsuit. For the most part, damages related to pre-death harm get paid to the deceased’s estate – the body of assets, liabilities and legal rights the deceased leaves behind – which then is distributed to family members according to state probate law. Damages related to post-death harm usually get paid directly to surviving spouses and family members in an order of priority established by state law which typically is: first to the surviving spouse, then surviving dependent children, then to other family members.

How Are Wrongful Death Damages Calculations Made?

Lawyers, estate representatives, insurance companies, judges and juries generally calculate wrongful death damages as follows:

Economic Damages

Economic damages simply consist of a tally of the fixed present and estimated future expenses resulting from the death. A financial planning expert may provide the estimate of future costs. 

Non-Economic Damages

Non-economic damages represent a personalized determination of the dollar value of harms that do not come with a “price tag” attached. Insurance companies and attorneys may sometimes use a shorthand method known as a “multiplier” to come up with this value, by multiplying the amount of economic damages by a number (typically between 1.5 and 5) that reflects the severity of the emotional and non-economic harm.

Punitive Damages 

Punitive damages may have an amount fixed by statute or may reflect a subjective determination by a judge or jury of the dollar amount necessary to punish and deter extraordinarily wrongful conduct. 

Hiring The Best Wrongful Death Attorney

Wrongful death actions constitute some of the most complicated and emotionally charged of all personal injury matters. Only trust an experienced, well resourced and highly skilled attorney to protect and enforce your legal rights if you find yourself grieving the loss of a loved one in senseless, tragic circumstances. Obtaining maximum compensation in a wrongful death lawsuit takes careful, diligent, sophisticated effort on the part of a lawyer. Only the best will do.

How The Law Center Can Help

If you are the surviving spouse or family member of a deceased victim, you need high quality legal advice to navigate the often confusing and traumatic aftermath of a wrongful death. The Law Center is here to help. We will connect you with the top personal injury and wrongful death attorneys in your area who will fight on your behalf to get you the compensation you deserve. To begin speaking to a wrongful death attorney about your legal rights today, call us at 866-465-1419 or fill out the form below.