More on Wrongful Death Damages
On another page on this site I addressed the issue of wrongful death damages. This is a continuation of that posting. In general, wrongful death damages are designed to compensate the beneficiary and not to accumulate an estate. What that means is that if the estate receives money from the case then that money is to pass pursuant to the will of the decedent or pursuant to intestacy if the decedent has no will. That is not the purpose of a wrongful death action. A wrongful death action is designed to benefit the statutory beneficiaries.
The damages for financial loss to the dependents may include monetary contributions and services rendered to the dependents that relate to and have monetary values. For instance, if the decedent chopped wood every day for his mother then that service has some value and a number can be put on it. Likewise, the cost of having someone do housework that had been formerly done by the decedent has value. A number can be put on that and is subject then to an award of damages.
As to the non-economic damages consisting of sorrow and anguish, a jury may infer such damages. There does not necessarily have to be proof of such. The prudent wrongful death attorney, however, presents that proof by having the beneficiaries testify as to the impact of the decedent’s passing.
A component of those damages are what are called care and society. Care and society is the care and society that the decedent provided in the form of a personal relationship with the beneficiary. That personal relationship has some value and the jury is entitled to put a number on that.
Where the relationship between the decedent and the beneficiary is frayed then evidence of that, likewise, can be admitted. For instance, in one case warrants have been sworn out by the surviving wife and daughter against the decedent shortly before his passing. That certainly is relevant to show the nature of the relationship.
The physical condition and monetary condition of the decedent and the beneficiary is admissible to show how the award should be apportioned. For instance, if the financial condition of one beneficiary is very poor then the loss of contribution from the decedent may be more meaningful. If the health of the beneficiary is very poor and therefore the life expectancy is somewhat limited, that too may have an impact on the amount of damages necessary to fully compensate that beneficiary.
If a particular beneficiary has engaged in some wrongful act constituting contributory negligence that contributed to the fatal injury, then that may be a bar to that claim by that beneficiary.
The hospital, medical and funeral expenses may not necessarily be a proper form of damage since those are damages which typically would be paid to the estate. The purpose of a wrongful death action is to benefit the beneficiaries and not the estate.
For more information on wrongful death see the other pages on this site.