The unexpected loss of a loved one in an accident because of the negligence of someone can be very disturbing, sorrowful and inconsolable for the family with a lot of emotional trauma as well as financial load. It is the kind of loss that is difficult to quantify in monetary terms. Wrongful death lawsuits are filed against a person whose negligence resulted in a death. The person at fault can be a doctor, a driver, or a workplace owner.
One of the questions which need to be considered is how much settlement amount is justifiable for a wrongful death case and what can you expect. Estimating the precise compensation value in such cases can be difficult as the amount may vary from case to case. A variety of factors need to be taken into consideration as every case is different and difficult to compare with other cases. It needs professional guidance from financial experts and economists.
According to the law, the family of the wrongfully deceased person can claim for the equivalent value of the life of that person and the pain and suffering caused. Such cases that need to be handled are sensitive and need to be handled with proper care. In this article, we will get a better understanding of the rightful amount in wrongful death lawsuit settlements and legal issues associated with it.
Circumstances Leading to Wrongful Death Cases:
- Deadly road accidents caused due to the negligence of drivers
- Elder misconduct and abuse
- Fatal workplace injuries
- Poisoning in food due to carelessness while cooking
- Delinquency of doctors and medical professionals
Elements of a Wrongful Death Claim
Before filing a wrongful death claim, a person must be aware of the important elements of the claim. The laws of a state establish these elements. The elements of a wrongful death claim generally include:
1) A Death
The first element established is the death of a person. If an injury is caused in an accident but still the victim is alive, a wrongful death claim stands ineligible.
2) Negligence Of The Defendant Which Led To Death
The next element which needs to be proven is that the negligence of the defendant resulted in the death. The defendant violated his/her duties and showed irresponsible behavior. For example, if a car accident resulted in death, the defendant might have disobeyed the traffic rules. Negligence can be an action, like a doctor’s mistake in surgery, or inaction, like failing to obey traffic rules.
3) The suffering caused due to the Death
The person filing the claim undergoes suffering because of death. This is decided by analyzing whether the person was financially dependent upon the deceased person.
4) Legal Rights of the Plaintiff to Recover
Each country has a wrongful death law, which entitles the family members of the deceased person with legal rights to recover.
Who All Are Eligible to File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?
1) Immediate Family Members
The members of the victim’s family can file a wrongful death lawsuit. The members can be his/her spouse, children, or parents. Lawfully adopted children or adoptive parents are also eligible to file a claim for wrongful death. The family members can file the claim together as well as individually.
2) Distant Family Members
According to the laws of some countries, siblings and grandparents of the deceased person are also entitled to file a claim for wrongful death, particularly in cases where they are the only guardians of that person.
3) Parents of a Deceased Fetus
The death of a fetus during the delivery can also be considered as a wrongful death suit. In most cases, the parents can get compensation for the pain and suffering caused. In some rare cases, parents can only file a wrongful death settlement if the fetus died after birth. You can consult with your lawyer to know whether your case is eligible or not.
4) Financial Dependents
The laws of some countries enable the financial dependents of the victim to file a wrongful death settlement. They possess the right to obtain compensation for wrongful death.
Losses for Which You Can Get the Compensation
The US laws permit you to claim for the compensation for various kinds of intangible losses which include:
- Loss of guidance
- Loss of companionship
- Loss of attention
- Loss of consortium
- Loss of moral support
- Loss of affection
These are genuine losses but usually the hardest to calculate as we cannot estimate their value. Your lawyer can provide you with the ways to present these losses in front of the jury and help you in getting an ideal compensation for them.
Types of Damages in a Wrongful Death Case
Damages are the economic value of a wrongful death case. Though the value of a person’s life is hard to determine, one case can be of more financial value than another. For example, a wrongful death case of an adult can be of higher monetary worth than a wrongful death case of a child. An adult can be the earning source for his/her family. So the death of that person can cause financial load on his family. Generally, the damages can be classified into three categories: economic, non-economic, and punitive.
1) Economic Damages
Economic damages in a wrongful death case normally include:
- Income and earning capabilities of the deceased person
This type of damage is most significant in a wrongful death case. If the victim was the only earning member in the family, his/her death can lead to an immense financial burden on the dependants. The jury may take assistance from financial experts to decide an ideal amount for the damages. Various factors are taken into consideration, which include life expectancy, age and health status of the victim, and inflation.
- Medical expenses caused due to the accident
In most wrongful death cases, the victim may undergo medical treatment before death. Even the cost of an ambulance can be thousands of dollars.
- Funeral and burial expenses
Unfortunately, funerals can also be very costly. These expenses can put a lot of financial load on a family already under grief. The courts can help in lessening this burden by providing compensation for these expenses.
- Loss of future benefits like pension and retirement funds
Apart from the income, the death of an earning member can take away the benefits like health care, pension, and retirement funds. The jury will determine the settlement amount by taking into consideration the loss of these financial benefits.
2) Non-economic Damages
The factors related to non-economic damages include:
- The value of the lost life according to the jury
- The nature of the person at fault
- Loss of comfort and support for the family
3) Punitive Damages
These are the kind of damages, which bring a sense of completeness to the family members of the deceased person because of the negligence of someone else. Punitive damages work as a restraint against negligent actions in the future, in the same way as fine works as a restraint against criminal actions.
Who is Responsible to Pay the Settlement Amount?
Insurance companies under which the deceased person or the person at fault is covered are generally responsible for wrongful death settlements. There is a limit to the insurance coverage amount, which the insurance company does not exceed. If the person at fault has limited sufficient insurance coverage, then, in that case, he/she is individually responsible to fulfill the settlement amount as well as the legal charges of the procedure.
What are the Settlements Options Available?
Both the parties talk about the case with an expert mediator to decide a fair compensation amount. The mediator analyzes both aspects and offers suggestions regarding the settlement of the case.
In this, an authorized jury listens to the aspects of both the parties in successive meetings to decide what can be the best option to do. The negotiator makes a decision in support of either the victim or the person accused. If the decision is obligatory, the judgment is considered final. There can also be cases the decision can be appealed if none of the parties agrees with it. In such cases, both parties can go to trial if they do not find the suggestions of the arbitrator satisfactory.
Factors Affecting Wrongful Death Settlement
Evaluating the life of a person in monetary terms can be very difficult. However, there are certain factors related to the deceased person which are helpful in reaching an amount:
1) Losses And Damages To The Family Of The Victim
The settlement amount in a wrongful death case depends on the number of dependants and irrecoverable damages caused to the family. The circumstances may differ for every case.
2) Perception of the Jury
The way in which the jury perceives the case and the circumstances associated with it is a major factor that influences a claim. Their interpretation of the case plays an important role.
3) Amount of insurance available
In most of the cases, the highest amount of settlement that can be obtained from the defendant is the amount of insurance available for the coverage of claims.
4) The identity of the person at fault
The characteristics and behavior of the person responsible for the death of the victim are important for the evaluation of the wrongful death settlement case.
5) Location and Laws of the Case
The jury in a small rural area may judge the settlement value of the case different from the jury in a large urban area. The laws of the place of the accident also play a significant role in the settlement process. Some of the courts resolve cases faster as compared to others.
6) Negotiation Skills of the Lawyer
The negotiation skills of your lawyer have a great impact on the value of your claim. With a qualified and experienced lawyer, the chances of getting a good settlement amount significantly increase.
Things You Need to Prove in a Wrongful Death Claim
1) Negligence Of The Person At Fault
The person filing the claim has to prove that the cause of death of their loved one was the negligence and irresponsibility of the person at fault. It has to be proven that the actions of the victim did not lead to death.
2) Violation of Duties
The claimant needs to prove with evidence that the person at fault violated his/her duties and responsibilities through careless actions, which resulted in the death of the victim.
It is necessary to prove that the actual and only cause of death of the victim was the negligence of the defendant, which turned out as fatal for the victim.
4) Damages and Suffering
There should be evidence to support the emotional trauma and financial load caused on the victim’s family because of wrongful death. This is inclusive of medical and funeral expenses, loss of earning, and pain and suffering to the family of the victim.
Common Mistakes That Might Reduce Your Settlement Amount
In some cases, the settlement amount you receive can be much lesser than expected in a wrongful death settlement case. There can be the following reasons behind this:
- The fault of the victim in the accident: There can be actions of your loved one, which might have led to the accident. The victim can also be negligent. For example, they might have broken some traffic laws while driving that caused the accident. In such a case, the settlement amount can be decreased by the percentage of their fault.
- Delay in filing the claim: The laws of some countries only allow the victim’s family to file the settlement case in a limited period from the date of death. If you are late with it and do not follow the deadline, you might not receive any compensation for that.
- Hiring an inexperienced lawyer: Wrongful death cases are different and more sensitive than in other cases. These need to be dealt with with proper care and professional expertise. You need to hire an experienced attorney who can understand the complications of your case and help you in getting a fair settlement amount.
Need for a Wrongful Death Lawyer
It is necessary to seek advice from a qualified and experienced wrongful death lawyer who can help you in ensuring a fair evaluation of your claim. He can protect your legal rights, get justice served to you and provide comfort to the family of the victim.
A wrongful death lawyer can analyze your case and the types of damages caused to determine the amount of settlement you can expect. An experienced lawyer has an understanding of the damages in such cases. He can provide you with the best legal advice to guide you with the settlement process. He can also negotiate with the settlement amount offered by the insurance company and make sure that you get the amount you deserve.
In case of trial, a wrongful death lawyer will be aware of the ways to present your case along with the evidence in an effective manner according to the laws. He can improve your chances of getting an ideal compensation for your damages with his experience and knowledge.
Calculating the Settlement Amount
Estimating the value of a life in monetary terms is never easy. It needs guidance from financial experts and economists. Still, there is no accurate wrongful death settlement calculator. However, in wrongful death lawsuits, we need a compensation amount for which we can file the claim. We determine the value of the loss of the deceased person in accordance with various economic and non-economic factors.
There must be proper evidence to support the compensation amount for the caused damages. Financial experts and witnesses can analyze the situation of the family of the deceased person to decide a fair amount. It involves consideration of many factors and varies according to the evidence and circumstances of every case.
Key factors include the earning capacity of the victim and the number of dependants in the family. The settlement amount also depends upon the nature of the accident that led to death and the medical expenses caused due to it. Pain and suffering endured by the family due to the wrongful death also affect the settlement amount.
Wrongful death settlement amounts can vary from thousands to millions of dollars, depending upon the circumstances. The family members of the victim can make sure to receive the claim value they deserve by hiring an experienced lawyer who has expertise in such cases and negotiation skills to deal with insurance companies.
After reading the above article, you have analyzed various aspects of filing a wrongful death lawsuit and estimating an ideal settlement amount for the compensation. You can hire a professional wrongful death attorney to guide you through the settlement process and help you in getting the claim amount that you deserve.