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What Damages Are Available in a Wrongful Death Case?

Posted on July 22, 2021 in Wrongful Death

An unexpected loss of life can take a great emotional and financial toll on a family. It can cause significant anguish for surviving loved ones, as well as financial strain due to related expenses and lost income. In California, bringing a wrongful death cause of action can reimburse a family for many different existing and future losses. If you file a wrongful death claim against the person or party that caused your loved one’s death, you may receive a financial award referred to as damages.

The Family’s Economic Damages

According to the Judicial Council of California Civil Jury Instructions, damages in a wrongful death claim can consist of two categories: economic and noneconomic. A judge or jury can award damages for the general and intangible losses (noneconomic damages) as well as specific and tangible losses (economic damages) suffered by a family due to an unexpected death. The economic damages claimed in a wrongful death case in California can include:

  • The family’s reasonable funeral and burial costs
  • Any earnings, employment benefits or financial support the decedent would have contributed to the family had he or she lived
  • The loss of any gifts or inheritance that surviving family members would have received from the decedent
  • The value of lost household services that the decedent would have provided

An economic damage award can pay surviving family members for lost health insurance coverage, retirement savings or pension plans, expected wages over the decedent’s lifetime, funeral expenses, and more. You or your Los Angeles wrongful death lawyer will need to prove these specific losses to recover financial compensation, however. Proof of economic losses in a wrongful death lawsuit can include pay stubs, receipts and expert testimony.

The Family’s Noneconomic Damages

Although California law does not allow a family to recover financial damages for its own mental anguish, it does permit the recovery of other intangible losses connected to the victim’s death. These refer to the noneconomic losses suffered by surviving loved ones in the absence of the decedent. Namely, the value of the deceased person’s love, comfort, care, affection, guidance, society and companionship, assistance, and moral support.

How Is the Value of a Wrongful Death Claim Calculated?

Most wrongful death cases in California settle, meaning an insurance company will negotiate back and forth with the claimant to reach an agreement on a fair amount of money to resolve the dispute. Some cases, however, go to court and are decided by a judge and jury. Either way, the party determining an appropriate amount to award a family in financial compensation will use certain processes to calculate a fair award.

Economic damages are typically calculated using hard evidence, such as invoices, bills, receipts and the decedent’s past pay stubs. The family’s specific economic losses related to the death will be combined with future projected losses. Noneconomic damages, on the other hand, have a more subjective value that will depend on factors such as whether the decedent is leaving behind a spouse or minor children, the relationship of beneficiaries to the decedent, and the household services provided by the decedent.

Does California Place a Cap on Damages?

The only type of case that comes with a damage cap (a limit on how much compensation can be awarded) in California is a medical malpractice lawsuit. If you are filing a claim for wrongful death due to medical malpractice, your family cannot recover more than $250,000 in noneconomic damages. California law also does not allow the recovery of punitive damages in a wrongful death lawsuit. Punitive damages are designed to punish a defendant for wrongful acts rather than to reimburse the filing party.

For more information about the damages that may be available during your wrongful death case in Los Angeles, as well as for an accurate estimate of the value of your claim, contact a wrongful death lawyer near you.