The following damages are recoverable in wrongful death cases:
- Payment for the medical bills and funeral expenses.
- The spouse and child of the deceased may be entitled to the anticipated lost earnings for the remainder of what would have been the deceased’s work life expectancy. The surviving spouse can also recover the reasonable value of lost household services.
- In the case of the death of an adult or child, the jury may also award money damages for the aid, comfort, society and companionship the deceased would have provided had he lived.
- No damages can be awarded for the pain and suffering endured by the deceased prior to his death, even if that suffering was caused by the negligence of the party at fault.
- Punitive damages can also be awarded if the death was caused by gross negligence or willful misconduct. Punitive damages are money damages assessed against the wrongful party to punish his behavior. This money is in addition to the compensatory damages listed above. The size of punitive damages is based upon the wealth of the defendant and the severity of the misconduct.
If the fatal accident was caused partially by the deceased, there will be a percentage reduction in the money damages received by his or her survivors.
One of the most challenging aspects of a wrongful death case is to prove the amount of lost future earnings of the deceased. It is often necessary for the family’s attorney to retain the services of an economist and a vocational expert to establish this loss. For example, assume that a 30 year old man was killed due to the negligence of some person. The vocational expert would conduct research to determine the likely future annual wages that would have been earned in the field of employment of the deceased. The economist would estimate the likely date of retirement, and would deduct from future earnings.