Wrongful death is the term used when someone causes the death of another person.
The death may be caused by the actions of someone or by their failure to act
(neglect). Wrongful death is a civil action rather than a criminal action. Since
the person killed (decedent) cannot file suit or collect damages, it is the
family or representatives of the estate that do so. The intent is to recompense
family members who have suffered monetarily and emotionally from the death.
Damages can be assessed for lost wages and benefits, loss of companionship,
and emotional pain and suffering caused by the trauma.
A defendant can only be held responsible for a wrongful death if it can be
proved that the defendant's conduct was the cause of the death. It must be proved
that the death would not have occurred without the defendant's act. The time
between the defendant's action and the death of the decedent is not a factor
as long as it can be proved that the defendant's action was the cause of death.
If it can be shown that the decedent was partially responsible for his death,
then he may be found to have comparative or contributory negligence and dependent
upon the state in which the incident occurred, damages may be awarded based
on the percentage of negligence imputed to the decedent. Also, if the decedent
failed to seek appropriate medical care and that failure led to his death, there
may be no grounds for a wrongful death claim or a reduction to an award.
Different states have different methods for deciding who may file a wrongful
death suit and who may recover damages. Generally, it must be shown that the
death was caused by another's wrongful act; that the act was such that the decedent
would have been due damages from the act; and that monetary damages did arise
from the act. If these three criteria are met, it is possible that a wrongful
death claim can be filed.
In a case of wrongful death, damages are assessed to compensate family members
for their loss. There are many ways in which damages can be calculated. Since
damages can be awarded in a number of areas, it is important to examine each
The most obvious loss in a case of wrongful death is the actual expense occasioned
by medical and death expenses. These are usually easy to determine.
Less obvious but equally important is the loss of future earnings and benefits,
as well as the loss of companionship. These damages are more difficult to calculate
and include anticipating the lifespan and earnings of the decedent, as well
as the relationship to remaining family members.
Loss of companionship is very difficult to calculate since it is totally subjective
and does not lend itself to empirical measurements. It is a measure of the emotional
pain and suffering experienced by the survivors.
A final area of damages is punitive damages. This is an amount awarded to punish
the person who caused the death, rather than to compensate for a specific loss.
It can typically only be awarded when the action of the defendant was intentional
or grossly negligent.
Personal Injury Damages
Types of Damages
Types of Compensatory Damages
Amount of Damages
Factors Affecting Amount of Damages Awarded
Comparative and Contributory Negligence