When a person’s life is ended prematurely as a direct or indirect result of another’s negligence, although nothing can bring the person back, the survivors of the deceased are entitled to sue for damages and make a claim for compensation by filing a civil action for wrongful death. Because of the importance of verifying the facts needed to determine liability and the value of the claim, a wrongful death action should be pursued only with the representation of an attorney who regularly handles this type of case.
In instances of wrongful death, the family of the deceased will usually receive a call from a representative of the insurance company of the party alleged to have committed the negligence. In no case should the survivors enter into any agreement or sign any papers without contacting an attorney. The insurance companies are very familiar with the monetary value of a wrongful death claim, and they will be quick to make an offer that will save them from paying the settlement the case deserves.
In a wrongful death action, there are two possible kinds of damages: compensatory damages and punitive damages. Compensatory damages are meant to compensate the survivors for the loss of the support and income that the deceased brought into the family, for medical and funeral expenses, and for the pain and suffering of the deceased associated with the death. The spouse may also be able to receive compensatory damages for loss of consortium. Punitive damages serve the purpose of punishing the responsible party for the negligent act, to discourage repetition. Punitive damages are more likely to be awarded when the defendant is a corporation that was aware of a dangerous situation and chose to ignore it.
Wrongful death actions can be grueling and emotionally draining for the survivors. Of course, it is really impossible to put a monetary value on a human life, but in a civil wrongful death action, that is exactly what an attorney must do. The plaintiff will need to provide evidence of the deceased person’s earnings and total income. The attorney will compute a projected income value to determine how much the deceased would earn for the remained of his or her natural life. This will be added to a demand for compensation for the deceased person’s pain and suffering, compensation for medical bills and funeral expenses, and any claim being made for loss of consortium.
Using these figures and knowing the monetary value of similar wrongful death cases in the jurisdiction, the attorney will commence the lawsuit by serving a summons and complaint on the defendant. The amount that will be demanded is usually greater than what the attorney expects to recover, which allows for a margin of error. That said, it is not unheard of for a jury to return a verdict in excess of the demand, although this does not happen often.
When looking for an attorney to represent you in a wrongful death case, ask about his or her experience in bringing this kind of action. Ask about settlements and jury awards in other cases the attorney has handled. Ask how often the attorney settles cases out of court and how often the cases go to trial. Insurance companies know which attorneys are willing to go all the way with a case. They will offer larger out-of-court settlements when they know there is a good chance of having to take a chance with a sympathetic jury and incurring expense of a trial.