Wrongful Death Lawsuit Settlements: Averages and Outliers
By FindLaw Staff | Legally reviewed by Robert Rafii, Esq. | Last reviewed November 22, 2021
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The sudden loss of a loved one is devastating. A loss like this could never be quantified in money. However, a specific area of the law allows families of someone who has been wrongfully or negligently killed to recover the equivalent of the "value" of that person's life. There are many factors that go into the calculation of settlements of these sorts of lawsuits. Read on to learn more about the average amount of wrongful death lawsuit settlements.
What Is a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?
A wrongful death case is a lawsuit brought by the surviving family members or personal representative of a person who has died as the result of intentional homicide, accident, injury, medical malpractice, or negligence of another person. It is not uncommon for the families of homicide victims to bring wrongful death lawsuits, which occur in civil court independent from criminal justice proceedings.
It can be understandably difficult, and somewhat uncomfortable, to quantify the economic value of a lost loved one. However, many surviving spouses and family members are left financially vulnerable after an unexpected death. Many find themselves solely responsible for funeral costs, medical bills, and in some cases the burden of supporting children without a partner. For this reason, some choose to file a wrongful death lawsuit seeking monetary recovery.
Amount of Recovery in Wrongful Death Lawsuits
It can be extremely difficult to put a dollar value on a human life. For this reason, the amount of recovery for a wrongful death lawsuit involves the balancing of many factors, and will likely vary depending on the circumstances of the case. Relevant factors include the victim's age and health at the time of death.
Another key factor is earning capacity, particularly if the victim was supporting a spouse or young children. The amount of a settlement will also depend on the nature of the accident or injury that caused the death, and if the victim incurred significant medical bills or endured protracted suffering before death. Plaintiffs in a wrongful death lawsuit can seek recovery economic damages, including things like:
- The decedent's lost income
- Burial and funeral expenses
- Medical bills incurred prior to death
Some types of damages are not as closely tied to economic issues, and as a result, can be more speculative. Some states also place caps on the amount of potential recovery for these "non-economic" damages, including:
- The family's loss of love, companionship, care, and comfort
- In the case of a spouse or partner, the loss of enjoyment of sexual intimacy, also known as "loss of consortium"
- The decedent's pain and suffering before death
Examples of Wrongful Death Cases
In recent years, there have been some newsworthy wrongful death settlements and jury awards that reflect how much these sorts of cases can be worth. Some notable examples include:
- A $150 million jury award for a 13-year-old girl who witnessed the death of her entire family in a car accident
- The family of Michael Brown, who was shot and killed by police in Ferguson, Missouri in 2014, settled a wrongful death lawsuit against the city for $1.5 million
- A $950,000 settlement in San Jose, California, for the parents of a 15-year-old girl who committed suicide after being bullied by peers
- A Massachusetts jury awarded $32.3 million to the family of a woman killed when a motorist drove into the store where she worked
- A $500,000 settlement between the city of Hayward, California, and the family of a man shot by police officers
Learn More About Wrongful Death Settlements from an Attorney
If you've lost someone you love due to an accident, injury, or crime you may have a case for a wrongful death lawsuit. Like other types of lawsuits, wrongful death cases have statutes of limitation specific to your state, so it's important to act promptly. Speak with an experienced personal injury attorney today to learn about your legal rights when it comes to wrongful death lawsuits. An attorney can also help explain the averages and outliers when it comes to wrongful death settlements.
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Contact a qualified personal injury attorney to make sure your rights are protected.