Understanding Recoverable Damages In Wrongful Death Cases

"Damages" is a term used in law to describe the compensation that's paid to plaintiffs if they prevail in their cases. An award of damages can be made if someone pursues a claim successfully through the insurance system, direct negotiation with a self-insuring party or a lawsuit. If you're planning to meet with a wrongful death attorney to talk about the possibility of bringing a claim, you should try to familiarize yourself a bit with the types of damages that can be recovered.

Economic Damages

This category covers clearly quantifiable things. For example, if the deceased party underwent multiple surgeries as a result of the incident in question, the medical costs are recoverable. Similarly, funeral expenses can be awarded as damages.

Notably, quantifiable damages aren't the same as having a precise number. The loss of parental guidance awarded as damages to a dependent child who lost a parent, for example, isn't tied to a bill saying X amount of value was involved. Parenting value, however, is still quantifiable, even if the number ends up being more general.

Awards tied to the loss of wage-earning capacity work similarly. The more clearly quantifiable loss of income that occurred after an incident is recoverable, and the long-term earning value of the person's practiced occupation is also recoverable.

Non-Economic Damages

The classic form of non-economic damages that are awarded in cases is what's called pain and suffering. Parties that suffered from the loss of a loved one can seek compensation for their losses.

Likewise, a survival action can be brought to seek compensation for the pain and suffering of a person who only died after they had been through an ordeal, such as someone who died several months after being injured. This oftentimes requires evidence that the person was consciously aware of their pain before dying, and it may require documentation in the form of videos, journals, and other indicators of their suffering.

Punitive Damages

A subset of non-economic damages includes punitive damages. This is compensation awarded to the plaintiff to make a point about society's opinion of egregiously wrongful behavior on the part of the defendant.

For a variety of reasons, a wrongful death attorney may not push for punitive damages. First, some states simply don't allow them. Second, conceding punitive damages may be perceived by at-fault parties as accepting too much blame, potentially exposing them to other legal actions. Third, punitive damages, to the extent they're ever awarded, are mostly awarded during trials.