In part one of Wrongful Death Lawsuits and Compensation we looked at the scope of a wrongful death lawsuit as it pertains to Personal Injury Law, and why only an experienced lawyer should see these cases to verdict. We also explained how damages are determined during trial, in regard to wrongful death. We delved into the differences between a lawsuit filed due to an accident and a lawsuit filed related to a death. Now, we’ll take a deeper look at “pecuniary loss”, expert testimony, and survival actions.
To refresh, we’ll define “pecuniary loss” within the scope of Personal Injury Law:
“[…]A loss that can be evaluated in money terms; money lost by a dependent when a support person dies.”
With this information, it’s important to remember that the actual process of determining pecuniary loss has multiple steps that must be allowed for to ensure that the outcome of the wrongful death lawsuit is fair and just for the surviving family of the decedent (victim). The relevant details collected during the Discovery phase of the case range from a victim’s age at the time of their passing to their earning (and future earning) capacity over a lifetime had their life not ended as a result of another person’s negligent or reckless actions.
What is expert testimony?
Now, we must look at how expert witnesses can play a key role within a wrongful death lawsuit.
During a wrongful death lawsuit, the lawyer representing a plaintiff (the family of the deceased) have the right to present the testimony of financial experts to establish a financial value on the deceased to his or her family. A financial expert could be deemed a type of expert witness, as their knowledge is related to his or her profession. This type of expert witness may sound unusual to our readers, but if the family of the deceased has a Board Certified lawyer, they’re present to ensure this type of testimony is treated ethically and with compassion toward the deceased as well as their family. Determining monetary value on a person can be difficult for a family to process, and it’s important that the lawyer has experience seeing previous similar cases to verdict.
There’s no price on family
Losing a loved one due to someone else’s negligence that results in a wrongful death is tragic as well as financially destructive to a family. With this in mind, courts have changed their approach. It is now admissible to allow testimony from a financial expert even if the decedent did not work outside the home. When the deceased did not work outside the home, the financial impact will be determined by providing proof to the court of increased spending to maintain the service he or she provided to the family had he or she lived.
Many times, the jury is not informed enough on the subject to make a decision on an unemployed decedent’s financial value and therefore experts are admissible during the trial. This helps the jury to better understand the impact the family has incurred as a result of losing their loved one.
What are “punitive damages”?
To better understand “punitive damages”, we must first look at the definition of the term.
The dictionary defines “punitive damages” as follows:
“[…]Damages exceeding simple compensation and awarded to punish the defendant.”
Knowing this, we can better understand why the defendant is often subject to paying punitive damages to the surviving family members after a wrongful death lawsuit.
What are “survival actions”?
Furthermore, a lawyer for the family may be able to obtain damages for Personal Injury as related to the accident that caused the wrongful death. This area of a Personal Injury lawyer’s practice of law is known as pursuing survival actions. In the case of a wrongful death, a personal injury has still been brought upon the deceased as a result of an accident–they may have suffered in terrible pain before they passed away either due to medical malpractice, car or motorcycle accident, plane accident, or negligent security accident. All of these are forms of severe pain and suffering prior to death.
A lawyer representing the deceased’s interests may pursue survival actions along with the wrongful death lawsuit. To be able to do this, the jury looks at several factors when considering survival actions on behalf of the family:
- Severity of pain and suffering prior to the death
- Fear of impending death
- Duration of the deceased’s suffering
The jury uses these considerations to determine the amount of punitive damages awarded to the family. An experienced wrongful death lawyer will know the best course of action in pursuing survival actions on behalf of a grieving family.