How Wrongful Death Claims Are Evaluated
These factors may include:
1. The facts of the accident giving rise to the claim. If the at-fault party’s actions are egregious, then the claim may be valued higher than if the acts only amount to a “simple mistake.”
2. Identity of the parties. If the death was caused by the actions of a sympathetic person (e.g., a grandmother), then the claim may be lower than if the death was caused by an unsympathetic party (e.g., a large multinational corporation).
3. The cause of death is important. The claim may be worth more if the cause of death is uncontested. Similarly, if there are other explanations or prior medical conditions that may have contributed to the person’s death, the value of the case may be lower.
4. The number and status of the beneficiaries. Usually, the value of a wrongful death case is higher when the deceased was married with children. This is because each beneficiary has a right to claim compensation for the loss of the relationship.
5. Pre-death suffering. The value of the claim may be higher if the deceased experienced conscious pain and suffering before death. Typically, the longer the period of time experienced, the higher the value of the claim.
6. Liability defenses. If the at-fault person can successfully prove that he or she was not at fault or that someone else was at fault, then the value of the claim might be lowered significantly.
7. Information about the deceased. If there is damaging or embarrassing information about the deceased person (e.g., the deceased was not a good person, had criminal convictions, etc.), then the value of the claim may be less or could be nonexistent.
8. Existence or lack of insurance coverage. There must be enough coverage to pay for all of the damages. If the at-fault driver was uninsured you may recover nothing (assuming you have no additional coverage like UM). If the other driver only had minimal coverage, then this may be all that you receive (unless additional coverage exists).
9. The experience and reputation of your lawyer. If you have an experienced lawyer who regularly handles wrongful death claims, then this may increase the value of your claim in the eyes of the insurance company.
There is no magic formula for placing a value on the loss of a human life. Much of the loss, or the amount of damages that are legally recoverable is purely subjective in nature. Often the value of the claim is heavily influenced by the quality of the relationship between the deceased and the surviving spouse and/or children. Ultimately, the value of any given case is what a jury says it is. No two cases are alike and each one has to be judged on its own merits, given the facts that exist. Nonetheless, because wrongful death cases are incredibly complex and expensive to pursue, you should consult with an experienced attorneyto maximize your chances of a successful outcome.