A 7-Step Guide To A Fair Wrongful Death Lawsuit Settlement

“How much was your loved one’s life worth?”

It’s an uncomfortable question — one that no one wants to answer.  No amount of money will bring back your loved one.  

When a wrongful death case is settled, many people will look at that $$$ settlement amount and make a judgment. For that reason, you probably want to know what the “average” lawsuit settles for. 

It’s a common question with many complex answers. With all that goes into these cases, the amount of recovery for a wrongful death lawsuit is unique to each person.

So here’s the thing: finding the “average” settlement is more difficult than it sounds. 

Challenging, yes. Impossible, no.

Read on as we walk you through this seven-step guide to the average amount of wrongful death lawsuit settlements.

1. What’s a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?

Before we go any farther, we should explain one thing first…

What exactly is “wrongful death?”

Well, that’s a great question. 

Wrongful death is a cause of action, or type of claim, brought by the surviving family of a person who has died. Yes, that’s rather general. Specifically, a person that has died as a result of an accident, injury or negligence of another person. 

Essentially, whenever a person or entity wrongfully causes someone’s death, they can be held liable in civil court. Grieving family members can recover money — known as “damages” in civil cases — by filing a wrongful death suit. 

Of course, it’s extremely difficult to put a dollar amount on someone’s life. As you’ll see later, there are many factors that go into determining the value of a wrongful death case.

2. Wrongful Death Settlement Payouts

Below are several recent wrongful death settlement amounts obtained by Davis Law Group. This list is just a sample of the claims handled by our firm:

  • $4 million settlement for the family of a woman killed by a drowsy driver. A local contracting company employee fell asleep behind the wheel, killing a 41-year-old mother of four. 
  • $3.25 million settlement for the family of a boy killed by an inmate that was released early. The State of Washington was found liable for a computer glitch that released many prisoners too early.
  • $3 million settlement on behalf of a married couple that was killed in a high-speed collision with a commercial vehicle. The couple’s sons pursued a wrongful death settlement.
  • $1.35 million settlement after a car crashed through a building, killing a woman. The woman’s husband filed a wrongful death case, which was settled during the jury trial.
  • $585,000 settlement for the family of a 72-year-old man killed while driving on the highway during a snowstorm. The State of Washington was found negligent for failing to properly sand the roadway. 

Again, it is extremely difficult to place a value on someone’s life. And unfortunately, wrongful death cases are often limited to the insurance coverage available.

So, while you may have read about a million dollar verdict in another case, it might not apply to yours. 

That’s the bad news. Even worse: if the defendant has no personal assets, you are limited to the insurance policy limits. It may be even less if there was no insurance.

Some states have a cap on economic losses in a wrongful death claim. Some also have caps for pain and suffering damages. 

3. How are Wrongful Death Cases Valued?

No two wrongful death cases are the same. 

Case in point, the varying estimates that have been applied to the value of life. 

  • $50,000 per year of quality life: The number most private and government-run health insurance plans worldwide use to determine whether to cover a new medical procedure.
  • $129,000 per year of quality life: Based on an analysis of kidney dialysis procedures.

Personal injury attorneys use the following rubric for determining how much money you’ll get in a case:

  • The victim’s age and health
  • The victim’s earning power, status, etc.
  • The victim’s character, intelligence, earning ability, etc.
  • The victim’s dependent children, family, etc.
  • The victim’s medical bills prior to death
  • Funeral expenses

There are other sentimental factors that affect the value of a case. These are harder to put a dollar amount on:

  • The family’s loss of companionship
  • A spouse or partner’s loss of enjoyment of sexual activity
  • The victim’s pain and suffering prior to death

These are just guidelines. A starting point.

As much as some lawyers and adjusters will have you believe, there is no settlement calculator for wrongful death claims. Looking at millions of settlements, it’d be hard to determine an “average” on these cases.

One more thing...

Historically, wrongful death claims for children have been worthless. 

Yes, that’s right. Worthless. 

Even just 100 years ago children were not seen as valuable as they are today. Harsh living conditions meant the death of an infant or young child was not uncommon. It’s sad but true.

As childhood mortality decreased, so did the value of their wrongful death claims. Today, it’s not uncommon to see a child wrongful death claim reach well into the millions. 

4. How Long Does it Take to Settle a Wrongful Death Case?

Here’s the deal: 

The timeframe of your wrongful death case will depend largely on the quality of lawyer you hire. A cheap, inexperienced lawyer might botch the case, settle too quickly, or miss key pieces of evidence.

That all impacts how long a case goes.

The right attorney will know the playbook. Many claims settle out of court, sometimes without filing a lawsuit. This can be a quick and easy process for the family.

Or not. 

If the case is complex and an attorney must sue — meaning the other side contests your case — it might take many months or several years. 

The reality is that insurance companies will sometimes drag their feet on these cases just to wear down the family. They know it’s a stressful time for you, and they’re in no rush.

This is a common bargaining tactic, and one you should be aware of.

5. Do You Have to Pay Taxes on a Wrongful Death Settlement?

No (in most cases).

Let us clarify.

Because most wrongful death settlements are compensatory — the money you got is compensation for pain and suffering — the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) doesn’t consider these taxable.

If the damages are punitive (meant to punish the person or party responsible for the death), then the IRS may take out taxes. 

Consult with an attorney to learn more about how your wrongful death settlement may be taxed.

Types of Wrongful Death Cases

The most common types of wrongful death cases are:

  • Car/truck/motorcycle/bicycle accident: Thousands of car crashes happen in the United States every day. Most wrecks are a result of at least one person’s negligence. This may include a semi truck, pedestrian, bicyclist, or anything else you might encounter on the roadway.
  • Medical malpractice: Mistakes happen, and even the most highly skilled doctors and surgeons mess up. A misdiagnosis of a condition may result in an endless possibility of bad outcomes.
  • On the job accidents: No workplace is 100 percent safe. Manual labor and construction jobs are more dangerous, and the family members of the deceased may be entitled to compensation.
  • Defective products: Companies spend years developing a product so that it’s safe. But product liability remains a top cause of wrongful death around the world. 

6. What is the Statute of Limitations on a Wrongful Death Suit?

Every state has different time limits on when a wrongful death lawsuit must be filed. 

Generally, you have two years from the date of the death. 

Special rules apply to minors, people with mental disability. Check with an attorney in you state to find the exact statute of limitations (SOL) for your case.

But things can get complicated...quickly.

In many states, the SOL doesn’t begin until the harm is discovered. But what exactly does that mean?

For example, if a doctor’s failure to diagnose a disease wasn’t discovered until years later, the SOL may not begin until the patient suffers from the disease. 

There may be an upper limit on the date of discovery in your state. Again, check with an attorney to learn the specifics that apply to your case.

7. How Are Wrongful Death Settlements Payments Made?

The question everyone wants to know.

"How will I get the money?"

The typical wrongful death settlement is paid out by an insurance company who provides coverage for the person or party for whom the death is being blamed. 

For example:

If your loved one died in a semi truck accident, the trucking company’s insurance provider would most likely be the source of the settlement.

These policies usually have a limit. Any damages above that the insurance company is not liable for. 

If there’s not sufficient insurance (or no insurance at all) then the at-fault person is personally responsible for paying the settlement. 

What about punitive damages in a wrongful death case?

We briefly discussed punitive damages above.

But not every state has these. Washington state is one example. 

In states that have them, punitive damages can be awarded where the defendant acted in a reckless manner or engaged in egregious conduct that result in death. Punitive damages are meant to punish and deter similar behavior in the future. 

Washington State Wrongful Death Attorney

An unexpected loss of a loved one is painful enough to bear, but when coupled with feelings of anger, despair, injustice, and a heavy financial toll, the victim’s family may feel hopeless. 

By assigning legitimate fault to the appropriate parties, your wrongful death attorney can help you find financial peace in the midst of one of life’s most terrible times. Should you want to file a survival action, an experienced lawyer can help. 

To get quality results, you must act quickly. Do not hesitate to call. Schedule your free case evaluation with a wrongful death attorney and find out more about the compensation to which you are entitled.

Contact Davis Law Group today at (206) 727-4000, use the chat feature below or fill out the form on this page to get started.

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