The decision to file a lawsuit for wrongful death is typically made in the wake of tragedy. Negligence leading to wrongful death can occur in the form of medical malpractice, defective products, catastrophic vehicle accidents, and work-related accidents, to name a few. The categories of losses to be paid by the defendant – known as damages – vary from state to state. Survivors representing the victim’s estate may receive compensation for three different categories of losses – economic damages, non-economic damages, and punitive damages.
Any financial losses suffered from the event of the victim’s death are considered economic damages. Medical expenses incurred by the victim’s family can range from one-time emergency room costs to long-term nursing care and pharmaceutical costs prior to the victim’s death. Reimbursement for funeral expenses may also be included. A lesser-known kind of economic damage exists in the form of lost income and may include:
- Loss of benefits (medical coverage, pension plans)
- Loss of expected earnings
- Loss of inheritance
- Loss of the value of goods and services that would have been provided had the victim not died
Sometimes referred to as “pain and suffering” damages, these are the more intangible losses suffered by a wrongful death victim’s family members. Although these factors are more difficult to place a value on, they are often more devastating than economic damages.
- Compensation for mental anguish (pain and suffering)
- Loss of the victim’s care, protection, guidance, and nurturing
- Loss of the victim’s love and companionship
- Loss of consortium from the deceased partner
Recently ignited debate within the legal community focuses on each state’s choice to place caps on non-economic damages. Because this type of compensation is “higher-priced” yet less concrete than financial-based damages, lawmakers are calling for a re-evaluation of the constitutionality of these cap statutes. Today, 38 states uphold caps at varying levels. Massachusetts’ non-economic damages cap is $500,000, unless a jury specifically pronounces that amount to be unfairly low in relation to losses suffered by the victim’s representative.
While compensatory damages (economic and non-economic) recover lost expenses, punitive damages serve to punish the defendant for negligence or wrongful conduct. In most states, punitive damages are not eligible in wrongful death cases. However, proof of gross negligence is lawful cause for punitive damages if the negligence results in a fatality. Gross negligence is defined as “substantially and appreciably higher in magnitude than ordinary negligence.” Therefore, if a jury only finds evidence of ordinary negligence, punitive damages may not be pursued. The amount of punitive damages is dependent on the circumstances of each individual case.
Altman & Altman, LLP – Massachusetts’ Wrongful Death Attorneys
Involvement in a wrongful death case is usually a painful and traumatic experience. As you process your grief for the loss of a loved one, navigating the legal system can be especially daunting. At Altman & Altman, LLP our legal team is committed to helping you through this difficult time. The main goal of our attorneys is to provide the absolute best legal representation available, however, it is equally important to provide this service with a high level of compassion and empathy. With over 50 years of wrongful death experience, Altman & Altman, LLP has helped countless families rebuild their lives, both financially and emotionally, after a loss. We have built strong relationships with wrongful death experts in the areas of product design, accident reconstruction, forensics, and in the medical field. We will be by your side throughout the entire process. Contact us today for a free consultation about your case.