Damages in Wrongful Death Lawsuits
In a civil legal action, the term damages refers to the amount of compensation that can be recovered. At The Jeff Brooke Team, a personal injury law firm in Virginia Beach, one of the essential questions our clients often ask is what compensation can be recovered if a wrongful death action is filed. There are a number of different factors that enter into the damages calculation.
Types of Compensation in a Wrongful Death Action
Under Virginia statutes, certain family members are entitled to file a wrongful death lawsuit when a person’s death is caused by the wrongful act, neglect, or default of another person. If the case goes to trial, damages will be awarded by either a jury or a judge.
The law provides that the judge or jury should award damages that are "fair and just." The purpose of a wrongful death action is to compensate for different types of harm caused by the at-fault party. The damages in the lawsuit will be a compilation of those types of losses.
The first type of compensation includes losses experienced by the deceased person as the result of the act that caused the death, beginning when the act occurred until the time of death. For example, if the person died as the result of an auto accident, but the death was not immediate, this part of the compensation covers the period from the accident to the victim’s death. The damages would include:
- Hospital and medical expenses
- The deceased person’s pain and suffering
- The deceased person’s lost wages
- Funeral and burial expenses
The second type of compensation in a wrongful death case covers losses of the deceased person’s family members after the loved one’s death. These damages compensate family members for their own losses. The Virginia statute specifically provides that this compensation should include:
- Mental anguish and sorrow, including companionship, comfort, and guidance
- Expected loss of income and services, such as protection and care, of the deceased person
Since there may be multiple family members who suffered losses — such as the decedent’s spouse, parents, children, grandchildren, and siblings — the total compensation for these losses will take into account the losses of all family members.
There is an additional type of damages that may be awarded in very limited circumstances. Punitive damages may only be recovered if the death was the result of conduct that was willful or wanton or recklessness evidencing a conscious disregard for the safety of others. Unlike the other types of compensation, punitive damages are not intended to compensate the deceased person or family members for losses. The purpose is to punish the person who caused the death and set an example to deter others from similar conduct.
How Damages Are Calculated in a Wrongful Death Action
From a practical standpoint, calculating damages in a wrongful death case is very complex. It involves taking into account numerous factors and circumstances. Often, hiring an expert witness is necessary. The expert calculates the damages based on economic and other criteria and testifies in court if there is a trial.
The damages calculation includes some specific economic computations, such as the deceased person’s lifetime income, which takes into account details like career or profession, education, and age. Valuing the services the person would have contributed to the household is similarly based on economics, as well as the family's situation. In addition, before a final number can be derived, the calculations have to be adjusted to take into account other economic factors like inflation.
The factors relating to mental anguish and sorrow are less economically based. Instead, they are determined based on the family circumstances and the nature of the relationship between the deceased person and family members. Considerations may include the length of a marriage and the specific kinds of kinds of love, help, and support the deceased person gave to the family.
Talk with a Wrongful Death and Personal Injury Law Firm in Virginia Beach
The emotional toll of losing a loved one is immeasurable. Understandably, it is very difficult to talk with an attorney about a wrongful death lawsuit after you’ve lost a loved one. However, there is a two-year time limit on filing a wrongful death claim. The time begins to run on the date of your loved one’s death. While you are entitled by to compensation if another person’s negligence caused the death, it is important to talk with an attorney as soon as you are able for that reason, as well as on account of the importance of gathering evidence about the circumstances of the death at the earliest possible time.
The Jeff Brooke Team is a trusted personal injury law firm in Virginia Beach with experience in wrongful death cases. You should talk with Attorney Jeff Brooke before you have any discussions with an insurance company or adjuster, because insurance representatives will not be concerned with your family’s best interests. The Jeff Brooke Team will always protect your interests and pursue your rights. Contact us by phone at (757) 552-6055 or by using our online contact form.
Jeff Brooke is a personal injury attorney devoted to helping individuals who have suffered serious and catastrophic injuries or lost a loved one as a result of someone else’s negligent and careless actions. The Jeff Brooke Team serves all of southeastern Virginia. The firm helps clients in the Greater Tidewater and Greater Hampton Roads areas, including in Virginia Beach, Norfolk, Portsmouth, Chesapeake, and Chesterfield. The Jeff Brooke Team also handles cases in northeastern North Carolina, including the Outer Banks.