Wrongful Death:

Determining the Amount of Damages

There are eight basic types of damages that may be recoverable in a Wrongful Death lawsuit. Due to specific statutes or circumstances, certain states or jurisdictions may limit or prohibit one or more of the following types of wrongful death damages:

  • Expenses directly resulting from death, such as medical care and funeral bills
  • Loss of benefits
  • Pain and suffering of survivors
  • Loss of care, guidance, and/or companionship
  • General damages
  • Personal injury to the deceased (also called “survival actions”)
  • Wrongful death punitive damages (in cases serious and intentional wrongdoing; most states do not allow these in Wrongful Death lawsuits)

Furthermore, some jurisdictions allow for the recovery of interest. Some of these damages may be difficult or too speculative to prove in court. Wrongful death damages for future loss are usually reduced to “present value” to prevent over-compensation of the plaintiff. “Present value” is an amount of money that, if invested in a reasonable conservative manner, will equal the full amount of future wrongful death damages. States generally have a standard way of calculating the “present value” based upon the future damages. The calculation of future loss of earnings is typically based upon life expectancy tables, as is the loss of future benefits, such as pension. Expert economists may testify as to the pecuniary value of the individual to his or her family. Until recently, an expert economist was not legally allowed to testify as to the value of a housewife, but the law has changed. While the death of a housewife does not present a loss of income, an economist can explain to the jury the monetary value of her services to the household and the amount of money necessary to replace her services.

It should be noted that a court can adjust the size of the wrongful death award determined by the jury, either increasing or decreasing it. This action would be based on specifics of the life of the deceased. For example, if he or she was a spendthrift, the court could reasonably decrease the size of the award. Conversely, if the deceased was unemployed at the time of death but had held a job for years, the court might increase the award based upon the deceased’s former earnings.