Putting a Price on the Death of Your Child

October 13, 2016 | Attorney, Matthew Dolman
Putting a Price on the Death of Your Child

Putting a price on the life of a human is not an easy task, but it is an unfortunate fact when it comes to wrongful death suits. In an adult wrongful death suit, a multitude of factors is used to assess the value. The most contributing factor is that of the person's earning potential. It sounds heartless, but a court cannot define the value of missing someone's smile—well, not quite.

But when it comes to the death of a child, who has no earning potential at all, how is the value assessed? How does an insurance adjuster or judge define the value of someone's infant child in monetary terms?

Putting a Price on the Wrongful Death of an Adult

To understand this, it will help to understand the value of an adult's wrongful death case. There are a few factors that are taken into account:

  • Number of dependents and the amount of loss and damages.

When someone dies, their earning potential—the amount the person would have potentially made had they been alive—is assessed. This is the easiest fiscal number to come up with in a wrongful death suit. It's basically the amount they would have made if they were still alive (salary multiplied by years until a normal retirement age).

Because of this calculation, a person's age, education, and career are strongly taken into account. For example, if 21 year old women who dropped out of high school and who was between fast food jobs and 42 year old women with a Master's degree who was the CEO of a pharmaceutical company both die, their values would be greatly different. Obviously, the CEO, with her valuable education and a high paying job, would have had a much higher earning potential. The unemployed fast food worker had little prospects and no income when they died.

The two cases have dramatically different values. Assume the CEO has three kids, and her value increases even more as three more people can claim the loss of someone they depend on. Again, this seems heartless, but it is how things work.

  • Perceived value of the deceased and the jury's opinion.

Another contributing factor, whether the case goes to court or not, is how much sympathy the insurance adjuster thinks the deceased person and their family could evoke. Similarly, whether or not the person was a “good person” or “bad person” will be assessed. It's not nice, but juries will be more likely to award a high monetary figure to a vibrant professor than they would to a felon who doesn't pay child support.

  • The defendant, the judge, and the jury.

Further, a case will be decided by who the defendant, the judge, and the jury are. People will have much more sympathy for the defendant (the person who caused the wrongful death) if it's a kindergarten teacher than they would if the defendant were a big corporation making harmful products. Likewise, the type of people sitting on the jury and the judge's reputation will be a factor.

Putting a Price on the Wrongful Death of a Child

One cannot use the standard model to put a value on the wrongful death of a child. They are yet to have an education and are yet to obtain a career. So how is it done?

When a child dies, the parents' recovery is mostly limited to their financial loss. This dollar amount is usually quite small. Financial losses due to the death of a child are determined by:

  • The age, sex, life expectancy, work expectancy, state of health, and habits of the child
  • The child's earning potential
  • The relationship of the decedent to those claiming a monetary loss
  • The health, age, and circumstances of those claiming monetary losses

Most of the above categories to determine value are purely based on speculation. Nobody really knows what job a child may have worked had they grown up. Or to what age they would have lived. Usually, the younger the child the more difficult this becomes. If a 16-year-old girl, on track to attend Stanford, dies right before she starts a student internship at Google, the wrongful death's value will be easier to calculate than say the same girl at age 6.

Because of this inexactness, juries often use something called a work-life expectancy table as a starting point for calculations. See an example of how it is calculated here. Although there are rules against jury speculation, they don't necessarily limit parents to only small recoveries.

In general, however, courts only award a small amount for the death of a child.

Damages Parents Can Claim

The damages recoverable for the wrongful death of a child usually begins with something called special damages. That is the exact cost of things like medical, hospital, and medication expenses that the child incurred before death. This is a factor since it is common for a child to accumulate healthcare costs immediately before death. This may include an ambulance ride, emergency surgery, life support, etc.

Parents can also claim something called loss of consortium which covers non-monetary things like love, companionship, destruction of a parent-child relationship, etc. These are emotions and joys that the child provided to the parents, which they will now be deprived of. The actual amount recoverable for loss of consortium will depend on various factors like the child's age, health, the capacity of the child, and the situation of the surviving parents.

Similarly, parents may be able to recover for their own grief, mental anguish, or suffering caused by the death of their child. These damages may also include expenses that were inevitably caused by the child's death, like psychological treatment, grief counseling, professional support for siblings, and psychological medication. Attorneys representing the wrongful death case will often present expert psychiatric or psychological witnesses to testify to the parent's claim for these damages.

Wrongful Death of an Adult Child

If the deceased child is a legal adult—18 years or older—a different set of laws apply. This is because parents may be dependent on their adult children, and thus stand to lose a lot more—in terms of financial support. In fact, this is often the only way for parents to claim the wrongful death of adult children. In other words, a parent can only recover for the wrongful death of an adult child if that parent was dependent on that child for financial support.

Wrongful Death of a Fetus

States have different laws about whether a person may bring a wrongful death suit when their unborn fetus is killed due to negligence. For example, if someone slips and falls because of the negligence of a store, and their unborn child dies. Many states require that a child be born alive, then die, to qualify for a wrongful death action, and in those states, the death of a fetus is not a valid justification for a lawsuit.

Unfortunately, Florida is one of the latter states. A fetus is not considered a person under Florida's Wrongful Death Act. Therefore, neither the mother nor the father can bring about a claim for the wrongful death or loss of companionship of their child.

Instead, Florida law treats the death of a fetus as a physical injury to the mother. Because of this, the mother may bring a personal injury action against the at-fault party, but it would be for “her” physical injuries. However, the claim can include emotional injuries due to the loss of a child.

A father claiming emotional injury because of the loss of his unborn baby is far less likely. That is because Florida law requires the injury to happen, or impact, the claimant directly.

This is the controversial impact rule. The Florida law states: “Before a plaintiff can recover damages for emotional distress caused by the negligence of another, the emotional distress injuries must flow from personal injuries the plaintiff sustained in an impact. The rule actually requires some impact on the plaintiff, or, in certain situations, the manifestation of severe emotional distress such as physical illness.”

This law was developed as a way to curb frivolous emotional injury claims by just anyone nearby.

Hiring a Wrongful Death Attorney

If your child has passed away due to the negligence of another, contact an experienced wrongful death attorney immediately. No parent should have to bury their child, but unfortunately, it happens. And when it happens in a circumstance that is preventable, it is that much worse. For this reason, those responsible should be held accountable. You do not deserve to bear this burden alone.

You may be entitled to compensation for your child's medical bills, loss of companionship, emotional suffering, and punitive damages to punish those who were negligent. Do not try to determine for yourself who is to blame. Allow our attorneys, who hold the utmost respect for our clients and their sensitive situation, to investigate the circumstances so you can take care of more important matters.

Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers, PA has represented many clients whose sought justice for the wrongful death of a family member. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact us at (727) 451-6900.

Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers, PA
800 North Belcher Road
Clearwater, FL 33765

(727) 451-6900


Matthew Dolman

Personal Injury Lawyer

This article was written and reviewed by Matthew Dolman. Matt has been a practicing civil trial, personal injury, products liability, and mass tort lawyer since 2004. He has successfully fought for more than 11,000 injured clients and acted as lead counsel in more than 1,000 lawsuits. Always on the cutting edge of personal injury law, Matt is actively engaged in complex legal matters, including Suboxone, AFFF, and Ozempic lawsuits.  Matt is a lifetime member of the Million Dollar Advocates Forum and Multi-Million Dollar Advocates Forum for resolving individual cases in excess of $1 million and $2 million, respectively. He has also been selected by his colleagues as a Florida Superlawyer and as a member of Florida’s Legal Elite on multiple occasions. Further, Matt has been quoted in the media numerous times and is a sought-after speaker on a variety of legal issues and topics.

Learn More