Within the scope of a wrongful death lawsuit there is an ethical approach. While a family can’t put a dollar amount on their loss, there are still financial burdens that must be dealt with posthumously. For this reason, it’s important to obtain a Board Certified attorney to help navigate both the judicial and financial aspects of a wrongful death lawsuit.
What are final expenses?
When a family member 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 their 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. This sort of financial injury can put mental strain on a grieving family.
It’s important that the lawyer has experience in wrongful death. They also must be familiar with the differences in the laws regarding death, and the laws that apply to being permanently injured. Determining damages in a wrongful death lawsuit begins with understanding “pecuniary loss”. That means how injured financially the surviving family members are as a result of wrongful death. In determining damages 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 do surviving family members receive justice 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 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 to ensuring the outcome is fair. 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?
Second, determining the circumstances is not a straightforward process and without an experienced lawyer, can become unnecessarily time consuming. The decedent’s surviving family are known as “distributees” during trial (or mediation).
What the judge tends to focus on when awarding the family members damages are the circumstances surrounding the wrongful death. This can be their wellbeing, financial status, employment status, education level, etc. at the time of their passing. For example, when a working parent passes away due to the recklessness of anther, their dependents are considered when determining damages. Damages usually include:
- Loss of income: child support in the event of a divorce, daycare, schooling, etc.
- Loss of parental guidance: who can care for the minors due to the loss of a parent?
What is “loss of parental guidance”?
“Loss of parental guidance” is difficult to determine and can be extremely emotional for the family. When a parent with minor children dies, it’s impossible to determine who should care for the children. Specifically, care for them in a way that’s comparable to a mother or father. However, this is why the judge considers the children’s loss in awarding damages. The judge knows that no dollar amount will replace the love of a parent, therefore they simply want to ensure minors have a successful life post-loss.
This is the same principle that applies when determining the other types of damages after wrongful death. 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 do clients choose an experienced wrongful death lawyer?
Board Certified attorneys have experience in the emotionally delicate area of wrongful death. Thus, they can provide the unbiased advice necessary to get the family through the legal process, especially during a time when they’re grieving.