Wrongful death settlements secure compensation for families who lost a loved one due to someone else’s negligence or wrongful behavior. But how much is the average wrongful death settlement? The answer will vary based on your case. If you’re seeking legal assistance, it’s advisable to consult with a wrongful death lawyer who can provide guidance and support throughout the process.

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What Is a Wrongful Death?

A wrongful death happens when someone dies due to the negligence or wrongful act of another person or entity. For instance, a wrongful death might occur when a drunk driver hits and kills another motorist, a doctor makes a medical or surgical error that results in a fatality, or someone commits a deadly assault on another person.

After such a death, surviving family members or representatives of the person who died, or the decedent, can take legal action to seek compensation for their loss.

This allows survivors to hold the responsible party accountable and recover financial resources in a tough time. Wrongful death compensation can cover funeral costs, income losses, and the pain of losing a loved one.

A wrongful death can result from many different types of incidents. Here are some common examples:

Motor Vehicle Accidents

Wrongful Death caused by Drunk Driver

Motor vehicle crashes are a leading cause of wrongful death. Not all car accident fatalities are wrongful deaths. However, many are, and they often happen when drivers behave recklessly or negligently, causing preventable crashes that lead to fatalities. This category includes car, truck, motorcycle, bicycle, and pedestrian accidents.

Factors like speeding, drunk driving, and disobeying traffic rules contribute to many of these tragic incidents. Numerous parties could be liable for a fatal car accident, including motorists, vehicle manufacturers, or government entities responsible for road maintenance.

Medical Malpractice

Medical malpractice occurs when healthcare professionals, such as doctors and nurses, fail to provide an appropriate standard of care, and a patient dies as a result.

Common examples of medical malpractice include surgical errors, misdiagnoses, delayed diagnoses, birth injuries, and medication mistakes.

Medical malpractice cases are highly complex, as they require a plaintiff to show that the medical professional’s action or inaction directly led to the wrongful death. This usually involves consulting healthcare experts who can interpret medical records, determine what happened, and explain what should have happened instead.

Nursing Home Abuse

Elderly residents in nursing homes sometimes suffer wrongful deaths due to abuse or neglect at the hands of their caregivers. This can include physical abuse, emotional abuse, neglect of basic needs, or medical neglect, any of which could be fatal among this vulnerable population.

Common contributing factors in wrongful death cases involving nursing home abuse include inadequate staffing, poor staff training, or systemic issues within nursing home facilities. Depending on the circumstances, family members could file a wrongful death claim against an individual caregiver or the facility itself.

Unsafe Premises

Every property owner is responsible for ensuring their premises are safe for visitors. When a property owner fails in this responsibility, and another person dies as a result, the property owner may be liable for the death.

For example, a wrongful death claim might arise if someone dies in a slip-and-fall accident, dog attack, or another preventable incident on someone else’s property.

These cases, which involve the legal concept of premises liability, hinge on proving the property owner knew or should have known about the dangerous condition on the property but failed to address it.

Liable parties could include private homeowners, renters, landlords, property owners, business managers, and security companies.

Workplace Accidents

Fatal workplace accidents occur when workers die on the job due to unsafe working conditions, lack of safety protocols, or the negligence of employers or co-workers.

Common workplace accidents leading to wrongful death include falls, machinery accidents, exposure to harmful substances, and construction accidents.

Some employers that provide workers’ compensation insurance are largely exempt from liability for worker injuries, even those that result in death. However, a good lawyer can hold employers liable in certain circumstances if the employers do not provide a safe working environment or proper training.

Dangerous Products

If manufacturers produce items with poor designs, manufacturing defects, or a lack of proper warnings, you can hold them liable for wrongful deaths that result. For example, a wrongful death claim could arise if someone dies because of a defective car part, children’s toy, or medical device.

Manufacturers, distributors, or retailers could all be liable under product liability laws when someone suffers a fatal injury from a defective or dangerous product. Lawyers commonly use evidence like purchase receipts, design schematics, and user manuals to prove wrongful death cases involving unsafe products.

Criminal Acts

A wrongful death due to a criminal act might occur if the death results from deliberate or dangerously negligent actions by another party. This can include a range of harmful behaviors, from physical assaults to armed robberies and reckless driving resulting in fatal accidents.

Surviving loved ones can seek justice and compensation through a civil lawsuit, separate from any criminal charges the perpetrator might face. Usually they will sue a business for negligent security if a crime on their property takes the life of a loved one.

What Is the Difference Between a Wrongful Death Lawsuit and a Criminal Prosecution?

A wrongful death lawsuit and a criminal prosecution are two separate legal actions that can arise when someone dies because of another person’s actions. They have different purposes and work in distinct ways.

A criminal prosecution is a case where the government charges someone with a crime related to another person’s death. These charges might include manslaughter or murder. In a criminal case, the goal is to punish the person who committed the crime. The government must prove the accused person is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, which is an extremely high standard.

On the other hand, a wrongful death lawsuit is a civil case where the family of the decedent or a representative of the decedent’s estate sues the party they believe is responsible for the death. These lawsuits aim to recover money for the decedent’s family or estate to compensate for their loss.

In a wrongful death lawsuit, the plaintiff must prove that the accused party was at fault for the death. However, the standard is a preponderance of the evidence, which is lower than in a criminal case.

A wrongful death lawsuit is independent of any criminal proceedings that may result from the same incident. In other words, even if the government decides not to prosecute someone or the criminal court finds the defendant not guilty, the family can still pursue a wrongful death lawsuit in civil court.

What Is the Difference Between a Wrongful Death Settlement and a Trial Verdict?

Wrongful death trial verdict

A wrongful death case typically ends in one of two ways: with a settlement or a trial verdict. You’ll want to understand the difference between these two if you know or suspect you have a wrongful death claim.

A settlement happens when both sides (the decedent’s family or representative and the party they are suing) agree outside of court on compensation. This often happens before the case goes to trial, but the parties can settle at any time before the court issues a verdict.

In a settlement, both sides avoid the uncertainty and expense of a trial. The family gets compensation without having to go through a lengthy court process. The defendant (the person or company facing the lawsuit) agrees to pay a certain amount to avoid possibly paying more if they lose in court.

On the other hand, a trial verdict is the result of a court trial. Both sides present their evidence and arguments to a judge or jury in a trial. Then, the judge or jury decides whether the defendant is liable. If they decide in favor of the plaintiff, they will also decide how much money the liable party should pay.

The amount of money available from a trial verdict is often more than what parties might agree upon in a settlement. However, pursuing a trial verdict is riskier because the outcome is uncertain, and it frequently takes a long time for the court to reach a decision.

Types of Compensation in Wrongful Death Cases

In wrongful death claims, the family of the decedent can seek compensation to cover the financial and emotional losses due to the untimely death.

Each types compensation addresses a different aspect of the family’s loss:

  • Medical and Funeral Expenses: This compensation covers the medical care the decedent received due to their injury before death and the expenses for their funeral and burial. These costs are often significant, and this compensation can relieve the financial burden on the family.
  • Loss of Income and Benefits: This type of compensation is for the income the decedent would have earned and contributed to their household if they had lived. This includes their salary and other benefits like health insurance and retirement savings. The aim is to support the family members who depend on the decedent’s income.
  • Loss of Inheritance: This type of compensation considers the potential future savings and assets the decedent would have accumulated and eventually left as an inheritance to their heirs. In wrongful death cases, the family can claim compensation for the loss of these potential savings and assets.
  • Loss of Household Services: In some cases, the decedent might have contributed to the household in ways that did not generate income directly, such as by performing maintenance, childcare, and other household duties. The loss of these services can have significant consequences for the family’s day-to-day life and finances.
  • Loss of Companionship and Support: This compensation addresses the emotional effects of the death. It compensates family members for the loss of love, companionship, and guidance the decedent would have provided if they had survived their injuries.
  • Pain and Suffering of the Decedent: If the decedent endured pain and suffering before their death due to the wrongful act, the family could seek compensation for this as well. This compensation acknowledges the suffering the decedent experienced and provides a measure of justice for their painful ordeal.
  • Punitive Damages: The court might award punitive damages for a particularly reckless or egregious wrongful act. This is not compensation for the family. Instead, punitive damages punish the wrongdoer and deter similar conduct.

Factors That Could Influence the Value of a Wrongful Death Claim

Several factors often come into play when determining the value of a wrongful death claim.

Each case is unique, and the following factors might increase or decrease the value of the claim depending on the circumstances:

  • The deceased’s age at the time of death
  • The deceased’s health before the incident
  • The deceased’s education and training
  • The deceased’s income at the time of death
  • The deceased’s potential future earning capacity
  • The deceased’s life expectancy
  • The number of dependents the deceased had
  • The deceased’s relationship to the claimant
  • The level of support the deceased provided to family members
  • The deceased’s final medical expenses
  • The deceased’s funeral and burial expenses
  • The pain and suffering the deceased endured before death
  • The emotional and psychological effects on the family
  • The degree of negligence or fault of the responsible party
  • Any pre-existing medical conditions the deceased had
  • The cost of any household services the deceased provided
  • The effects of inflation on future earnings
  • The insurance policy limits of the defendant
  • The legal representation and negotiation skills of both parties
  • The lifestyle and typical living expenses of the deceased’s family
Jacque Hawk, Wrongful Death Attorney in Augusta
Jacque Hawk, Augusta Wrongful Death Lawyer

Perhaps the most important thing you can do to maximize the value of your wrongful death claim is to hire a trusted personal injury lawyer. Choosing an experienced and reputable attorney is critical to ensuring a favorable outcome for your claim.

A skilled lawyer will have a deep understanding of the legal system and wrongful death laws in your area. They will thoroughly investigate the circumstances of the case, gather necessary evidence, and build a strong argument on your behalf. They can accurately assess the full extent of your losses and argue effectively for a fair payout that reflects your family’s suffering.