Losing a loved one in an accident leaves their family and friends devastated. As they move through the stages of grief, they begin searching for answers and recognize the financial stresses associated with the loss of a loved one.
Potential plaintiffs often ask what a wrongful death lawsuit average is when deciding if they want to pursue one.
Unfortunately, there is no one average number. No two cases are exactly alike, so there is no way to compare cases to each other. The amount of compensation you can receive will depend on a number of factors.
Understanding what a wrongful death claim requires and how damages are calculated can help the family decide how to proceed.
What is a Wrongful Death Suit?
Wrongful death is a civil claim brought by the deceased’s surviving family or personal representative against the negligent party. It is completely separate from a criminal charge, with a different burden of proof. Every state defines wrongful death in their own way, but there are common elements:
- Duty of Care. The plaintiff must show that the defendant had a responsibility to avoid behaviors that could cause foreseeable harm to the plaintiff (the deceased);
- Breach of Duty. The plaintiff must show that the defendant violated their duty of care;
- Causation. The defendant’s violation/breach caused the person’s death; and
- Damages. The deceased and their family suffered injury or damage as a result.
In these situations, the family has the option to file a wrongful death lawsuit and seek compensation.
What Damages Are Available in a Wrongful Death Case?
A wrongful death claim covers those losses experienced by the next of kin after the deceased’s death. These can include:
- Loss of future inheritance,
- Loss of parental guidance (if they had minor children),
- Loss of spousal companionship (also called consortium),
- Loss of the decedent’s benefits such as retirement, and
- Loss of the decedent’s future income.
Depending on your state, you may also be able to pursue a claim for losses suffered by the deceased prior to their death, such as medical expenses and pain and suffering. Your attorney can help you understand the laws that apply to you.
How Are Wrongful Death Damages Calculated?
Because each case is so different, it’s hard to name a number, or even a range, for damages. However, there are several factors that may affect a settlement amount.
Usually, the main consideration is the decedent’s status and circumstances at the time of death. Factors to consider include:
- Age of person at time of death;
- The deceased’s career, education, and earning capacity;
- Their state of health;
- Income at time of death; and
- The age and needs of the deceased’s legal dependents.
The final amount of damages cannot be a guess. It must be supported by objective evidence, which can require expert witnesses. Because of this, it is so important to have a personal injury attorney on your side who knows how wrongful death cases work.
If a case does reach a jury, the plaintiff can also ask for punitive damages. Punitive damages are intended to punish a defendant whose conduct is considered grossly negligent or intentional. Some states put a cap (limit amount) on this category. In Indiana, punitive damages are capped at the greater of three times compensatory damages or $50,000, whichever is greater.
Kentucky and Illinois do not limit punitive damages.
Who Can Bring a Wrongful Death Claim?
Each state has its own laws stating who has standing to bring a wrongful death claim and who can collect damages. Usually, only immediate family members like spouses, children, and parents of unmarried children can recover damages in a wrongful death suit.
Often, these individuals also have standing to bring the wrongful death suit. However, many states require a deceased’s personal representative (executor, executrix, or court-appointed administrator) to bring suit on behalf of the family members.
Is a Wrongful Death Settlement Taxable?
The IRS considers any portion of a settlement or award that is “compensatory” as non-taxable. Compensatory damages are intended to repay someone for a loss that they have already sustained and are not considered “income” for tax purposes. If the case goes to trial and a jury awards punitive damage, the result may be different. It is possible that any punitive damages in a jury award or settlement may be taxed.
How a Wrongful Death Lawyer Can Help You
Navigating a wrongful death claim can be complicated and overwhelming. You may be grieving and wondering if a claim is in the family’s best interest. Sometimes insurance companies contact family members shortly after an accident and offer an amount that seems substantial. But in most cases, their offer will be significantly less than the family’s actual losses.
A wrongful death claim will take an additional toll on everyone involved, so having an attorney is essential. First, they will be your advocate against the responsible party, insurance company, or opposing counsel. They know the law and how to navigate the legal system on your behalf.
The loss of a loved one cannot be reclaimed through a personal injury action. But a claim can compensate a family for emotional and economic harms so that they can begin to move forward. An experienced lawyer can help you negotiate a settlement or represent you at trial if necessary.
Suffering the Loss of a Loved One?
Did you lose a family member or loved one due to the negligent actions of another? The team at Gerling Law is incredibly sorry for your loss, and we want to help you if we can. Our attorneys are dedicated advocates who will fight hard to get you the compensation you deserve after such a tragedy.
We have successfully represented clients in Indiana, Illinois, and Kentucky in wrongful death suits and other personal injury matters for over 50 years.
Go with Experience. Go with Gerling. ®