While it might seem to be a difficult concept on the surface, damages in a wrongful death lawsuit are given a dollar value. Called “pecuniary” or financial injury, American courts have through the years interpreted these damages to be the loss of support, services, medical and funeral expenses as well as losing the prospect of inheritance. Laws have determined ways of measuring what is fair and just in considering compensation for the financial injuries that resulted from someone’s death.
A lot of characteristics come into play when determining financial injury. Things like the deceased person’s age, character and health condition, how much that person was earning at the time of death and would have been earning in the future all factor in. The circumstances of the distributees also has an effect on the financial assessment of the case. Each of these matters can be a complicated inquiry, as all are weighed against the figure of actual financial loss. It can sound easy enough to look through the paystubs to determine what kind of impact lost wages will have on the dependents, but assessing future wage loss can be more complicated. Was the person on track for a promotion? If the deceased is a parent, one of the losses to determine is parental guidance. It may seem extraordinary to put a dollar figure on something that seems priceless, but courts have determined there is a way to do so.
Here’s an example of a wrongful death lawsuit in which I represented the family of a teenager killed in a jet-ski accident. The link will take you to the case result which details the circumstances of the case and how I worked with this Bellingham family after the death of their son. I worked with Zac's parents to figure the recoverable damages they had lost, which included funeral and medical expenses in trying to save their son's life, the value of services the decedent would have been able to render to the household had he still been alive, what he might have earned in his lifetime of working, and those most precious assets a person can give others: loss of society, companionship, protection and affection. In the state of Washington, our Constitution provides that the amount of money recoverable for a wrongful death claim isn't limited by a cap. It's up to the jury to decide the value of the case based on its unique circumstances and evidence.
For more on wrongful death lawsuits, click here.
I did a series of videos on my Bill Coats Law YouTube Channel about wrongful death. Click below to watch each short video: