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What You Should Know About Wrongful Death Damages

There are several types of damages available in a wrongful death action. These damages generally fall into four categories: pecuniary (financial) losses, mental anguish, loss of companionship and society, and loss of inheritance. Pecuniary losses include the loss of the decedent’s earning capacity, advice, counsel, services, care, maintenance, support, and reasonable contributions of a pecuniary value. Pecuniary losses may also include certain expenses incurred by the plaintiff, such as psychological treatment or funeral expenses. In especially egregious cases, exemplary damages are also available.

Loss of advice and counsel includes the value of professional recommendations and personal guidance the decedent might have rendered to the plaintiff if the decedent had survived. Loss of services can be the services provided to the plaintiff by the deceased spouse, child, or parent. Loss of services damages are proven by evidence showing the value of the services lost. Examples of services include household and domestic services (spouse or child) and monetary value of nurture, care, education, and guidance (parent).

In a wrongful death action, mental anguish is the emotional pain, torment, and suffering that the plaintiff experiences as a result of the loss of a family member. When awarding mental anguish damages, a jury should consider the relationship between the plaintiff and the decedent, the living arrangements of the plaintiff and the decedent, the extended separations of the decedent from the plaintiff, the harmony of their family relations, and their common interests and activities. The jury considers similar factors when awarding damages for loss of companionship and society. Companionship and society are defined as the positive benefits flowing from the love, comfort, companionship, and society the plaintiff would have experienced had the decedent lived.

Loss of inheritance is defined as the present value that the decedent would have added to the estate and left at natural death to their statutory wrongful death beneficiaries had they survived. To claim loss of inheritance, the plaintiff must prove what the decedent’s total income and expenditures would have been over the decedent’s lifetime along with proof the plaintiff would have been a beneficiary of the decedent’s estate.

Lastly, exemplary damages are recoverable when the wrongful death is caused by the defendant’s willful act or omission or gross negligence. The purpose of exemplary damages is to punish the defendant and deter others from acting similarly in the future. Only a surviving spouse and the decedent’s children can recover exemplary damages. While a parent can recover actual damages for the wrongful death of a child, a parent cannot recover exemplary damages for the wrongful death of a child.