Within the scope of a wrongful death lawsuit lies a nuanced, ethical approach to the law. While a family can never put a dollar amount on the loss of a loved one, and shouldn’t have to, there are still financial burdens that must be dealt with after death (in the most compassionate way possible). For this reason, it’s important to obtain Board Certified legal representation to help navigate both the judicial and financial aspects of a wrongful death lawsuit.
What are final expenses?
When a loved one dies as a result of the negligence of another, the surviving family is often left with final expenses they cannot afford. These can include any or all of the following: medical, childcare, funeral, and lost future earnings the deceased would’ve brought in to support his or her family. Lost future earnings are a perpetual loss, as the deceased was most likely working full time and providing his or her family with stability. After a wrongful death, the stability a family once had is taken from them along with their loved one. This sort of financial injury can put mental strain on a grieving family.
It’s important that the lawyer chosen to represent surviving family members has experience in wrongful death and that they are familiar with the differences in the laws regarding death, as opposed to the laws that apply to being permanently injured by another. Determining damages in a wrongful death lawsuit begins with understanding “pecuniary loss” or how injured financially the surviving family members are as a result of the wrongful death. In determining damages to be awarded post-accident, courts have a system for measuring the level of financial injury that includes:
- Loss of support (wages, child care, child support)
- Loss of prospective inheritance
- Medical, funeral expenses
How are surviving family members treated fairly after a wrongful death?
The law stipulates that the damages obtained in the event of a wrongful death lawsuit will be just compensation for the financial injury that occurred due directly to the victim’s passing. Damages awarded can potentially include added interest from the date of death. This is to account for the financial losses suffered during the legal process when the deceased’s wages were no longer able to provide for the family.
The actual process of determining pecuniary loss has several steps that must be allowed to ensure that the outcome is fair and just. First, relevant details are collected about the decedent:
- Health conditions prior to death
- Earning capacity over a lifetime
- Life expectancy had the wrongful death not occurred
- Intelligence level and education
After wrongful death, what happens to dependents?
The next thing that is reviewed thoroughly are the circumstances the surviving family are in after the death. The decedent’s surviving family are known as “distributees” during trial (or mediation, should the lawyer’s experience determine this is the best method for resolving the case). Determining the circumstances is not a straightforward process and without an experienced lawyer, can become unnecessarily time consuming.
What the judge tends to focus on when awarding the family members damages are the circumstances surrounding the deceased (their wellbeing, financial status, employment status, education level, etc.) at the time of their passing. As an example, when a working parent passes away due to the recklessness of anther, their dependents are considered in the process of obtaining damages. This usually includes:
- Loss of income (to provide for the child; child support in the event of a divorce, daycare, schooling, etc.)
- Loss of parental guidance (who is fit to care for the dependent(s) after their parent has passed away in a manner that is, according to the court of law, equal to the care they received from their parent?)
What is “loss of parental guidance”?
“Loss of parental guidance” is often difficult to determine and can be extremely emotional for the family members involved. When a parent with minor children dies, it is impossible to determine who might be able to care for the children in a way that’s comparable to the love and care provided by a mother or father. This is why the judge considers the children’s loss in the damages to be awarded. His or Her Honor knows that no dollar amount will replace the love and nurture of a parent, but wants to ensure the minors have a successful life post-loss.
This is the same principle that applies when determining the other types of damages in a wrongful death claim. No dollar amount can ever replace the loss of a loved one for the family, and it becomes difficult to consider what would be “reasonable” after a wrongful death. This is why many wrongful death cases go to trial and not mediation. A judge providing a verdict may provide a larger amount of justified compensation for the victim’s family.
How to choose an experienced wrongful death lawyer
Board certified lawyers have experience in the emotionally delicate area of wrongful death, and can provide the unbiased advice necessary to get the family through the arduous legal process during a time when they’re finding it difficult to see clearly, and especially during a time when they’re grieving.