When a person dies as the result of the negligence of another, it is known as a wrongful death, and may be eligible for a wrongful death claim. The manner in which the death occurs generally does not affect the value of a wrongful death claim, i.e. the value of a wrongful death claim for a person who died in an auto accident is the same as for a person who died due to medical malpractice. Other factors, however, can affect the value of a wrongful death case.
Circumstances Associated with a Wrongful Death
There are any number of circumstances which can result in a wrongful death. Some of those circumstances include:
- A fatal automobile accident where another person was responsible due to negligence;
- A case of medical malpractice which resulted in death;
- An airplane crash;
- A death caused by criminal behavior;
- Death resulting from occupational exposure to hazardous substances or conditions, or
- A death which occurs during a supervised activity.
Damages Associated with a Wrongful Death Suit
Financial injury is the primary measure of damages in a wrongful death lawsuit. This can include the loss of support, the loss of a future inheritance, the loss of services and medical and funeral expenses as well. In order to fairly determine financial injury, the age, character and condition of the decedent will be considered, as well as his or her future earning capacity, health, intelligence and life expectancy. These factors are combined with the circumstances of those who will benefit from the wrongful death lawsuit. As an example, if an adult wage earner with five small children dies as a result of another’s negligence, there could be the loss of income factor as well as the loss of parental guidance. The earnings of the deceased at the time of his or her death as well as potential future earnings will be calculated.
This means if the deceased was about to graduate from medical school, there would be no current employment earnings to calculate, however calculations as to how much the deceased would have earned throughout his or her lifetime as a heart surgeon (or whatever the specialty) will be calculated. Obviously, when determining future earnings, the person who works at a minimum wage job and the person who is the CEO of a large corporation will have different calculations as far as future earnings. (unless the minimum wage worker was attending night school with plans to increase his or her earnings significantly).
While the jury will determine the size of the damages award after hearing all the evidence, the size of the award can be adjusted up or down by the court. It may be necessary to present expert testimony in order to establish the “value” of the decedent to his or her family. This type of testimony was not admissible when a housewife died until recently. Now the financial impact on the survivors takes into consideration the increased expenditures (cook, housekeeper, nurse, babysitter, etc) which are now required because those services are not being provided. Consider the following issues related to the award in a wrongful death lawsuit:
- The value of a wrongful death case hinges largely on the number of claimants involved; the wrongful death of a single, childless 20-year-old young woman who is unemployed will be different than the wrongful death of a 45 year old married brain surgeon with three young children. In the latter scenario, the surviving spouse as well as each child may have an individual claim. Additionally the physician’s estate has a claim for future lost net earnings which could be in the millions of dollars. On the other hand, it can be extremely difficult to estimate the future earnings of the 20-year-old young woman in the above scenario.
- Jury sympathy for you and your family members is actually not as important as the likeability factor. The jury needs to feel empathy for you and to like you. If they have prejudices against you, it could affect the outcome of your wrongful death case. All things being equal, juries tend to have more sympathy for those they respect and can relate to. If the jury feels the survivors are using their lawsuit just to “get rich,” the resulting award may be disappointing.
- Right or wrong, the jury’s perception of how valuable the decedent’s life was as well as how “good” a person he or she was will color the jury’s view of the wrongful death lawsuit.
- The award will also depend on the amount of insurance coverage available to resolve the wrongful death claim. Juries generally see little sense in pursuing a defendant beyond their level of insurance coverage. As an example, a jury is unlikely to award a million dollars to the plaintiffs in a wrongful death lawsuit (even if the plaintiffs were deserving) if the defendant only has $50,000 in insurance to cover the lawsuit.
- The jury will take into account whether the defendant in the case is likeable and believable, and what the defendant was doing at the time of the accident which caused the death when determining an amount for a wrongful death case.
- Whether your wrongful death case takes place in a low-population rural county or a heavily populated urban area can make a difference in the final wrongful death award.
- Finally, (and perhaps most importantly), the value of your wrongful death case will hinge significantly on the skill and reputation of your Chester County attorney. Skill leads to success, success build reputation, and reputation leads to larger and quicker settlements.
If you have lost a loved one due to the negligence of another, speaking to a knowledgeable Pennsylvania wrongful death attorney can make a huge difference in your future.
Contact Our West Chester Wrongful Death Lawyers
If someone you love was killed in an accident in Chester County, Philadelphia, Lancaster, or anywhere in the State of Pennsylvania, it is crucial you speak to an experienced West Chester wrongful death attorney immediately. Your West Chester wrongful death attorney will be able to establish who is at fault for your loved one’s accident, and ensure that your family is not left dealing with unnecessary financial burdens.
The Chester county wrongful death attorneys of Ciccarelli Law Offices have successfully represented family throughout the state of Pennsylvania who have lost loved ones due to another person’s negligence. Our Chester County based law firm is based at 304 North High Street, West Chester PA 19380 and serves clients in Kennett Square, Downingtown, West Chester, Coatesville, Exton, Chester Springs, Chadds Ford, Landenberg, Honey Brook, Oxford, Malvern, Parkesburg, Phoenixville and Paoli. Contact us now at (610) 692-8700 or call toll free (877) 529-2422. Don’t wait—contact an attorney immediately.