Compensation Available to Family Members for Wrongful Death

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Practice Areas: Auto Accident, Aviation Accidents, Personal Injury, Trucking Accident, Wrongful Death

Any time a loved one dies it is a tragic and painful situation.  However, if that death is the result of negligence on the part of another person, it is even more difficult.  Yet the law does provide an opportunity for immediate family members to bring a lawsuit to receive compensation from someone whose negligence has caused that wrongful death, under certain circumstances and within certain guidelines.

Wrongful Death Lawsuits

When someone is found to have acted negligently, either with intent to cause harm or ignorantly causing harm, resulting in the death of a victim, the immediate family members are legally entitled to file a wrongful death lawsuit against that person.  The key element justifying a wrongful death lawsuit is that it must be proven that the defendant acted negligently, causing the death of the family member. 

There are a number of accidents or injuries that can cause a wrongful death and produce grounds for a wrongful death lawsuit.  They include:

  • Vehicle or airplane accidents
  • Medical malpractice
  • Exposure to hazardous substances or conditions on the job
  • Criminal activity
  • Accidents or malicious acts during a supervised activity
  • In addition to wrongful death suits, the surviving family members may also be able to sue for survival actions.  These are personal injury claims that survive beyond the death of the victim.  These can include the victim’s pain and suffering based on several elements, including:
  • How conscious the victims were, causing them to be aware of pain and suffering before their death
  • The severity of the pain they suffered during that time
  • Their awareness of the impending death and how long they were aware of it

Calculating Compensation

If there are grounds to file a wrongful death lawsuit, the family must choose a representative to work with an attorney to pursue the case.  This person is called the personal representative, and they work with their lawyer to determine the amount of pecuniary, or financial damages to seek in their suit.  This depends on a number of factors:

  • The age, character, and condition of the deceased
  • The resulting loss of income
  • The loss of parental counsel and guidance if children are involved
  • Loss of support or services
  • Medical and funeral costs
  • Prospective loss of inheritance

In many of these cases, expert witnesses are brought in to testify concerning the expectations or standard estimates for these kinds of losses.  The jury will then consider all this testimony to determine the appropriate amount of compensation.  The judge may then adjust the jury’s recommendation based on other factors, which have been presented to the court.  That may include punitive damages, in states where they are allowed, to deter similar negligent actions by others.

The wrongful death of a young child or an elderly person are usually lower than for other victims because it is more difficult to estimate those losses, if any, resulting from these types of losses.


Within the tragedy of a wrongful death, a family may find some compensation for their loss.  Those monetary awards can never replace the loss of a loved one, but they can help  to ease the burden of continuing on without them.  These can be complicated cases to pursue, so a skilled attorney who can compile the necessary evidence and call effective experts to testify can make all the difference in winning or losing such a lawsuit.

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