Determining how much a wrongful death case is worth is probably the single most difficult legal question for both plaintiffs’ and defendants’ attorneys. And part of the reason is that valuation really is not a legal question at all, but rather a prediction of what a jury comprised of ordinary folks would decide to award to the survivors or estate for the wrongful death of their loved one. In other words, there are no statutes with definite numbers for certain claims or even rough guidelines written anywhere in the law books saying what amount any wrongful death case should be worth (like in other legal situations, for example, child support, where the law has a chart with guideline amounts). Instead, the statutes and case law simply define and describe who can sue for wrongful death and then what categories of wrongful death damages are available to different survivors.
So How Do Attorneys Determine What A Wrongful Death Cases Is Worth?
Although attorneys have difficulty putting a dollar value on a human life, they generally consult with one another about settlement values in other similar cases. They can also consult verdict reports from similar cases. But, again, those only give a rough idea of what either an insurance company or corporate defendant might offer to settle a case, or what a jury might award. They are not mathematically certain numbers–how could they be? Someone’s life is worth absolutely everything to that person’s loved ones. And no amount of money in the world can ever make this right. So lawyers and even jurors simply must try to estimate various categories of damages (such as net accumulations, pain and suffering and loss of support). They can be helped along by experts such as economists who can give rough estimations of what someone might have earned and saved during their life, and that sort of thing.
How Do You Calculate Pain And Suffering Damages?
Economists cannot help with the calculation of pain and suffering damages. Sometimes grief experts might be helpful in better explaining the extent of your suffering. Additionally, pain, suffering, and lost support and services, depend partly on the relationship that you had with the deceased person. So attorneys from both sides of the case can and do explore the evidence regarding the closeness of the relationship. They explore these relationships primarily by interviewing you and other witnesses to your relationship with the deceased. A closer relationship or a more emotionally or financially dependent relationship will often lead to higher damages, all other things being equal. (Pain and suffering is just one several available categories of potential damages in wrongful death cases.)
What Other Factors Impact What A Wrongful Death Case Is Worth?
Another big issue with determining wrongful death case value is the wealth or insurance coverage of the defendant. Most businesses have liability insurance policies anywhere between 300,000 and upward (often 1 million or more). And the businesses themselves can either have extensive assets (for example, a large corporation) or possibly not enough to attempt the extensive legal process necessary to collect anything beyond the insurance policy amount (for example, a small mom and pop business). Individuals may or may not have an insurance policy that covers their actions (homeowner’s and auto insurance policies are common avenues for seeking available damages from individuals). But the attorney simply cannot help the client recover what is not there. So the attorney will carefully evaluate the potential assets for recovery when deciding whether a lawsuit is a good idea.
If you want a more careful evaluation of what your potential wrongful death case might be worth, feel free to call my personal cell phone at (407) 383-7290.