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What is unique about wrongful death claims and their damages?

Auto crashes, exposure to asbestos and defective products and elder abuse all have one thing in common: they could lead to a person's untimely demise. When such incidents result in death due to the negligence of another party, a wrongful death claim may be the only recourse for surviving family members.

Wrongful death lawsuits are unique because the deceased's personal representative is the only party who can file the claim, and because they require a lower standard of proof than a criminal case. The damages sought in a wrongful death claim are based on financial injuries, also referred to as pecuniary injuries. Examples of these injuries include: lost wages, medical and funeral expenses, lost prospect of inheritance and loss of support and services. If surviving family members suffered any of these injuries, they may want to consider filing a wrongful death claim.

Courts determine financial losses by considering several factors, such as the earning capacity of the deceased, as well as the person's health, character, age and life expectancy. If the plaintiff's rely on financial support from the deceased, damages may be calculated based on the potential income of the decedent. If a case goes to court, a jury may award damages, but the judge presiding over the case has the authority to increase or decrease the amount and set the final damage award. Plaintiffs should present evidence that will solidify their claim to ensure maximum compensation.

The purpose of filing a wrongful death lawsuit is to compensate surviving family members for the loss of a loved one, often after a criminal trial for the same incident is over.

Source:, "Wrongful death overview," accessed on Nov. 9, 2014

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