Wrongful death lawsuits are a unique type of personal injury claim, brought by the survivors of someone who died as a result of another person's actions. Because the injured person is no longer living, the way that the claim is valued is also somewhat unique. Learn more about how damages are calculated in wrongful death claims and the role of experts in the process.
What type of damages are allowed in wrongful death claims?
There are actually two different periods of time that have to be considered when calculating the value of a wrongful death claim:
- the period of time from the injuring event to the actual moment of death
- the period of time from the injured person's actual death to whenever his or her natural death might have been expected
The first period of time could be negligible or it could be quite lengthy. For example, if somebody was killed instantly in an accident with a gun, there really is no period of time between the event that caused the death and the actual death. On the other hand, if the injury wasn't immediately fatal, the injured person might have spent weeks or months in the hospital before dying. Damages that can be awarded in this category include medical expenses, lost wages, funeral costs, and pain and suffering.
The second period of time is designed to compensate the survivors for their losses–which means that relatives who were dependent on the deceased in some physical or financial way are the most likely to receive compensation. For example, if the person killed was a mother with small children, her children would be deprived of her physical and financial support from the point of her death until they come of age (or possibly longer). Her husband would also be deprived of her companionship and financial assistance as well.
What type of expert witnesses are involved in the process?
The actual amount of damages that are awarded for either period of time often ends up being hotly contested in court, because both categories require a certain amount of speculation. While concrete expenses like medical bills and lost wages up until the point of death may be fairly easy to calculate, the less tangible "pain and suffering" is much harder to figure.
Since the deceased isn't able to testify to his or her experiences, it usually requires the testimony of expert witnesses in order to establish the amount of suffering someone experienced between injury and death. Medical experts will often be called upon to help the jury understand just how conscious the deceased was of his or her injuries, how painful that would have been, and what sort of fear he or she may have suffered.
The second period of time often involves the testimony of both medical and economic experts. A medical expert may be called upon to help the jury determine how long the deceased would have likely lived and worked if he or she hadn't been killed. The economic expert will look at the deceased's occupation and attempt to put a value on the financial losses suffered by the survivors as a result of the death.
For example, if the deceased was a homemaker, the economic expert might help the jury understand how much it would cost to replace her services cooking, cleaning, caring for the children, running errands and so on. If the deceased was employed, the economic expert would try to estimate the total that she would have earned in her lifetime, accounting for raises, promotions, and inflation.
Wrongful death claims are often highly complex, both because of the two periods of time that have to be considered in the claim and the way that damages have to be determined. For more information about how expert witnesses can help your claim, discuss the issue with your attorney, such as Bangel, Bangel, & Bangel, as soon as possible.