Most courts define “pecuniary injuries” in a wrongful death claim as the medical bills and funeral expenses incurred by the decedent, plus the monetary value of the loss of means of financial support and the monetary value of the loss of aid, comfort and society sustained by the heirs. Laws in most states provide for fair and just compensation when awarding damages resulting from a wrongful death. The statutes vary in determining the nature and extent of the damages that can be awarded.
Calculations on the amount of pecuniary losses take into consideration many factors, including the physical and mental condition of the decedent prior to the injury causing the death, their age, life expectancy, earning capacity, as well as their character and their relationship with the surviving heirs. The circumstances of the plaintiffs bringing the action are also considered when determining compensation. Analyzing these losses is complicated, as only actual pecuniary losses may generally be compensated.
If a lawsuit for personal injury was initiated prior to a victim's death, survivors may be entitled to the damages that may have been awarded had the decedent survived, depending on the particular state statutes. The suit for personal injury may survive after the victim died, changing the type of suit from a personal injury to a “survival action”. Juries may be allowed to consider evidence of the victims physical condition before death occurred in assessing compensation for conscious pain and suffering prior to death. Such evidence can include the gravity of the pain and suffering and whether the victim knew of impending death.
A. Medical Bills/Funeral Expenses.
The claimant in the wrongful death case may be entitled to recover the reasonable side view of the medical bills and the funeral expenses incurred due to a negligently caused wrongful death.
B. Loss of Past Wages.
Determining the loss of wages depends on the circumstances of the decedent's death. If the victim sustained an injury that caused a loss of past wages, these past wage losses are normally compensable in a wrongful death claim.
C. Loss of Means of Support.
When a parent of minor children or caregiver of others passes away due to a wrongful death, the pecuniary value of the loss of means of support is also considered. This may be loss of monetary support to the dependence that has been taken away by the wrongful death of a breadwinner. Factors that are considered in this loss may include the earnings capacity of the decedent, the foreseeable work life expectancy of the decedent, the probable career advancement of the decedent and a host of other factors. Evidence of these factors are submitted to a jury to assist the jury in determining the total loss of means of financial support sustained by the survivors as a result of the decedent's death.
D. Loss of Aid, Comfort, Society and Companionship.
When a decedent leaves surviving heirs, the heirs are entitled to compensation for the loss of aid, comfort, society and companionship. This includes the loss of the companionship that the decedent would have continued to provide to the surviving heirs, including the loss of companionship to a surviving spouse and children and other heirs. The traumatic loss of a spouse's companionship is monumental. Similarly, when a parent dies, the child loses that parent's guidance and the corresponding loss of comfort. Compensation for this loss depends upon a host of factors that an experienced wrongful death lawyer will be able to assess and develop evidence to be included in pursuing a wrongful death claim..
E. Punitive Damages.
When malicious or intentional wrongful deaths occur, punitive damages may be sought by the victim's survivors to discourage others from behaving in the same manner. Each state's laws must be assessed to determine whether punitive damages may be recoverable in a wrongful death claim. To determine if your state allows this type of compensation, it is advisable to seek the services of a competent wrongful death attorney.