Wrongful death compensation is recoverable by a number of survivors of the decedent, otherwise known as real parties in interest, who may seek compensation from liable parties in light of negligence playing a role in the death of the decedent. In short, a wrongful death claim may be created when a given individual dies as the result of the negligence of another individual or entity. To date, all states in the United States adhere to some form of wrongful death law, which allows parties of interest (most likely the estate of the decedent) to recover compensation from legally responsible parties. These entities, which must be proven to have acted negligently and contributed to the wrongful death, can include private citizens (such as in auto accident, medical malpractice, or intentional acts), companies (such as employers, employers of employees acting negligently, companies manufacturing or marketing defective products, hospitals or health care institutions, or others), and even government agencies (although a significant amount of government entities are immune from liability in a large number of instances).
Damages Available in Wrongful Death Claims
Damages potentially recoverable in a wrongful death case are highly subject to state laws, which can greatly differ from state to state, often based on the nature or cause of action in the wrongful death claim. Certain states may impose statutory caps on recovery of compensation, as well as offer immunity from liability in other cases entirely.
Generally speaking, the following lists the potentially recoverable wrongful death damages for real parties in interest in a wrongful death claim, including:
- Economic damages: These damages, which are documentable financial losses incurred by the real parties in interest, may include medical bills incurred before death of decedent, expected lost earnings of decedent over their lifetime, lost benefits such as pensions and even health care, and lost value of services or goods a decedent would have provided otherwise, had he or she not died. The amount of recoverable based on these types of economic damages will widely vary from case to case, based on documentable factors present at the time of death of the decedent and possibly based on calculations for future losses (most notably concerning lost income over lifetime).
- Non-economic damages: These damages, which are non-pecuniary in nature but are nonetheless losses sustained by real parties in interest, can include pain, suffering, mental anguish, and psychological trauma sustained by survivors. Additionally, survivors can recover compensation for loss of parenting and nurturing, loss of consortium, loss of companionship, and a slew of other intangible losses and harms sustained by survivors.
- Punitive Damages and others: Another element of compensation may be what are known as punitive damages, which may potentially be assessed in cases involving intentional or egregious negligence causing death of the decedent. Other compensation recoverable may also include interest and legal fees in certain cases.
Getting Legal Help with Calculating Wrongful Death Compensation
In reality, the process of calculating potentially recoverable compensation in a wrongful death claim will involve complex calculations based on well-documented, but case-specific factors. This process may involve hiring expert witnesses, accountants, actuaries, and other financial professionals to determine the extent of losses. Furthermore, testimony from experts concerning the non-economic losses will also become relevant. From a legal standpoint, seeking legal counsel and the associated professional services is the only definitive method of determining what compensation is recoverable in a given wrongful death lawsuit.