Wrongful Death Compensation Greatly Helps Victims Families
In the area of civil law parties are able to recover damages for a variety of injuries suffered by the action or omission of another party, even if there were no criminal charges filed against the party. This ability to recover is particularly evident in cases involving wrongful death. The fact is, people can be killed by the actions of other people where no actual crime was involved. Crime definitions tend to be very specific, and it’s quite possible due to plain error and mistake for someone set in motion the conditions that get another person killed. To compensate the family or loved ones for sudden loss, the tort of wrongful death was created and exists in civil law as a way of restoring balance. This is a significant resource for those who relied on a loved one who was also a sole-income earner or provided for a large family by his or her efforts.
The actual recovery is based on proving that an identified party was clearly responsible for the death of another. The death could have occurred with a bad prescription, a car accident, withholding medical care, placing someone in a dangerous work condition or other similar situations. In all scenarios, a person was killed and it occurred due to someone doing something or not doing something that otherwise should have been the opposite of what happened.
Wrongful Death Stories are Common
Consider the story of Mary. Her and her husband Alejandro had been married for 17 years. They had three children, two girls and a boy. The family had transplanted to California because Alejandro had secured a very lucrative job with a major refinery company in Martinez. All seemed to be working itself out; they had a good income, they bought a home, the kids were doing well in school, and Mary and Alejandro were starting to look forward to retirement and what they would do when the kids moved out. Then the accident occurred. Alejandro and a dozen other workers had been badly injured from an explosion. A few days later a number of them died due to injuries too severe, and Alejandro was one of them. Mary suddenly found herself alone with three children, a houseful of expenses, grief and sorrow, and her husband's employer suddenly distancing itself from affected families as the incident came under control and the investigations began. Despite the loss and hurt, bills still had to be paid, the bank wanted its mortgage payment, and utility companies were complaining charges were falling past due. Who was going to help out Mary with family clear across the country where they moved from? This is one of the reasons civil law was written for recoveries.
Related Article: Who Can File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit
Types of Damages
Wrongful death civil laws are not the same nationwide and can vary a bit from state to state. However, these suits generally have damages that fall in one of three categories:
- Economic damages – These types of losses are primarily money-based and include both upfront expenses as well as long-term losses due to an inability to replace income that the deceased was earning prior to being killed. Income often gets referred to in a number of different names, including family contribution, payroll, revenue, and generic income. Direct expenses can and do include hospital care and medical costs, funeral costs, and legal expenses. Finally, economic damages also include basic living support such as the funding needed to pay bills and a house mortgage to keep survivors at a status quo or the condition they were in before the wrongful death occurred.
- Non-economic damages – Much harder to establish because these damages often involve intangible impacts, non-economic damages often become the issue of lots of argument in litigation and push-back from defending parties. However, most reasonable people agree, these categories of damage do occur. Non-economic damages include suffering, hurt, mental anguish, grief, loss of companionship, loss of a spouse’s support, loss of development and guidance for children without a parent, loss of friendship or nurturing in a family. There is no appraisal book that pegs a value to these things but most people agree they are important and should be addressed in wrongful death situation that could have been avoided.
- Punitive damages – This kind of loss focuses on the fact that, once proven, the wrongful death could have been avoided by a reasonable response, reasonable action or a reasonable person’s thinking. Note that the term “reasonable” is not a strict definition; what it means when applied to a given case can vary from state to state. However, reasonableness often boils down to what the typical person would have done with the same training, knowledge and skills. So if a team of roofers is assigned to a tall building and everyone knows they should have been given harnesses but were not, and one falls off the roof and dies, then there’s an argument for a wrongful death and the argument that a reasonable person would have provided and required a harness be worn.
Punitive damages exact a punishment on the defendant when applied. They are intended to send two messages. First, the defendant needs to pay more than just the out of pocket cost for a wrongful death. The party also needs to be given a punishment to show that the party should have performed or acted better than they did. Second, punitive damages also act as a deterrent, signaling parties in the same industry or same field that similar actions will hurt them as well down the road. So prevention is something they should be paying attention to avoid a similar legal outcome in the courts.
How the above three category of damages are determined or calculated depends on a variety of factors. Again, some aspects may start with objective metrics but the level and intensity often relies more on the evidence in case, how it is presented, and where the judge or jury finally puts a decision based on the case details and arguments. Most people have heard of civil lawsuits being quite large but, in reality, many cases are decided everyday with far smaller amounts being involved. This is because damages can be determined in two ways: by judgment or by settlement. In a judgment the judge or the jury makes the final decision what a case is worth and how much, if any, the defendant will pay. In a settlement, the parties officially involved in the case come to a mutual agreement to settle the case for a specific dollar amount paid and potentially certain actions being taken to prevent similar situations in the future. Many argue that the settlement aspect just turns torts into a money-making process for parties seeking to leverage payments from big pocket defendants. However, in most cases both sides have trained and skilled attorneys who often balance out a case to what it really pertains to and is worth if damages are reasonable.
Wrongful death recovery is not about trying to win big. It's about restoring the lives of those affected by a death that could have been prevented. While a lawsuit won't bring a loved one back, the damages recovered can at least restore what that person provided for a family and their future.