What Losses Can I Recover in My Wrongful Death Claim?
After the loss of a loved one to another person's negligence, it is important to seek compensation to assist with the financial damages suffered. We realize no amount of money will do justice, but it can help ease the financial losses your family is experiencing.
Damages that may be recovered in a wrongful death claim in California are subject to the general requirements that they are reasonable and would have been reasonably certain to result in the future.
Subject to these limitations, a person entitled to sue for wrongful death can recover the following damages:
- Loss of love, society, companionship, comfort, protection, care, and consortium: In determining the amount of these damages, several things are taken into consideration, including the closeness of the relationship involved, the age and health of the survivor, and the life expectancy of the decedent.
- Loss of services: Where a decedent performed domestic services for the survivor, such as watching children during the workday, the survivor may recover the value of these lost services in a wrongful death action.
- Loss of financial contributions: Where a survivor received expected financial contributions from the decedent, they can be included in the wrongful death claim. Examples of items in this category include income, benefits, and support payments that would normally have been used to support the surviving person.
- Loss of training and advice: Where the survivor would have received training and advice from the decedent, the survivor can recover the value of the loss. A common example is the advice, training, and moral support that children receive from their parents.
- Funeral and burial expenses: Reasonable funeral and burial expenses incurred by a survivor may be recovered in a lawsuit for wrongful death.
Note that a lawsuit for wrongful death is intended to compensate the survivor for their own losses, not for the losses incurred by the decedent prior to death. Therefore, a survivor cannot recover for the following:
- Pain, suffering, or anguish experienced by the decedent prior to death
- Medical expenses or other expenditures incurred by the decedent prior to death
Though these elements are not recoverable in a wrongful death action, you can pursue them through a survival action. A survival action is brought when an injured party dies from the harm inflicted by a negligent person. The decedent's personal representative, i.e., the executor of their estate, brings this type of lawsuit and recovers all economic losses of the decedent prior to death.
A survival action does not include damages for the pain and suffering experienced by the decedent, only actual quantifiable losses, like medical bills and lost wages.
What Is the Value of My Wrongful Death Case?
Possible considerations in determining the amount of a wrongful death recovery include:
- Life expectancy: Damages in a case are recoverable for the period where the survivor and the decedent would have been alive together. Damages will therefore be limited to the life expectancy of the survivor or the decedent, depending on which is shorter.
- Earning capacity of decedent: Another consideration in determining the amount of wrongful death damages is the amount of lost support and financial contributions from a decedent to the survivor.
- Relationship between survivor and decedent: One other consideration affecting the recovery of damages in wrongful death claims involves introducing evidence of the nature of the relationship between the survivor and the decedent. The closer the relationship, the more the damages are presumed to be.