A wrongful death case is a civil action brought by the survivors of a person who died due to the negligence or intentional actions of another party. Usually, a wrongful death lawsuit is filed by a close family member of the deceased or a representative of the deceased’s estate. If a wrongful death lawsuit is successful, there are different categories of damages available.
The compensation available in a wrongful death lawsuit is generally divided into two categories, which are defined by two specific time periods. The first category allows for compensation to begin recovery at the moment the negligent act causing the death occurs. Recovery will be covered up until the time of the decedent’s death. For instance, if the decedent had been injured in a car crash or other accident which required extensive medical care in a hospital for days, or even weeks, then the recovery would account for any damages acquired from the accident until the time of death of the decedent. Damages would cover any losses acquired while the decedent was in the hospital. Damages in this type of situation and category might include medical expenses, the deceased’s person’s mental and physical pain and suffering, the deceased’s lost wages, and funeral and burial expenses.
The second category of damages involves recovery for the losses experienced by the decedent’s family after the death. This category of damages compensates the family survivors for their financial losses. These damages are generally intended to replace the value of money the deceased would have earned were it not for the wrongful death. These include the lost wages that would have been earned until the deceased’s anticipated retirement.
Some states also allow claims for “loss of consortium.” Loss of consortium is when a spouse or immediate family members suffer the loss of the deceased’s love and companionship. Loss of consortium is particularly relevant in cases where an adult parent dies and leaves behind young children who are then deprived of the guidance of the parent.
When deciding what types of damages will be awarded in a wrongful death case the court will look at several different factors surrounding the decedent and their former relationships with the different surviving family members.
Wrongful death damages are most often awarded awarded to:
- Spouses. Usually the surviving spouse has a claim for suffering the loss of companionship after the wrongful death. They may also receive recovery for pain and suffering and emotional trauma resulting from their spouse’s death.
- Children. Minor children may also be awarded damages for the lost benefits of their relationship with the deceased parent, such as comfort, support, and guidance.
- Parents. Parents of a minor child who has passed away can also recover damages for their emotional trauma and the lost relationship with the child.
Sometime the court can also award punitive damages to the decedent’s survivors, depending on the circumstances of the death. Punitive damages are meant to “punish” the offender and prevent similar conduct in the future. Punitive damages are awarded in cases where the defendant’s conduct was significantly unruly and egregious.