How are wrongful death damages determined?

A person who has suffered the loss of a loved one in an accident caused by someone else's negligence knows that the grief can be unbearable. A drunk driving accident that kills another driver or pedestrian, neglect or abuse at a nursing home, a medical error that takes rather than saves the life of a patient -- no matter the age of the person or the circumstances of the death, these senseless losses test the survivors to their limits.

Seeking compensation when a wrongful death occurs is the right of those left behind, but understanding how the law views the value of a human life can be complex. There is no one-size-fits-all amount for all wrongful death lawsuits. Each case must be evaluated on its own and within the parameters of the law that governs the particular state in which the suit is filed.

Different factors are considered for claim amounts based upon the situation, including the following:

  • If the deceased was elderly, the claim may result in a lower damage award, because the victim has fewer productive years ahead, fewer years in which he or she earns a salary or contributes to household income. The victim's lifetime earning power is lower than the earning power of a middle-aged, mid-career adult.
  • While Tennessee does not allow a wrongful death claim for an unborn fetus, some states do. If the child is born and dies shortly thereafter, the claim is permitted in Tennessee.
  • When a minor child dies, the projected financial earning of that child through a lifetime may be used to determine a claim amount.
  • When an adult with minor children dies, both the loss of future income and damages for the loss of parental care can be awarded to children.

The most important thing to remember when you lose a loved one, though, is that a damage award is not based on earning power alone. Courts and state laws take into account the full contribution of the victim to the lives of the survivors: the loss of love and care that a parent's death can cause, the loss of the opportunity to see a child grow up, the loss of companionship suffered by a surviving spouse. Wrongful death claims seek compensation for the entirety of the survivors' loss.

If you live in Tennessee and have questions about a death in your family, please contact us.

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