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.
Putting a Price on the Wrongful Death of an Adult
- 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 , 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
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 , 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 . 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 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.
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 because of the negligence of a store, and their unborn child dies. Many states require that , to qualify for a wrongful death action, and in those states, the death of a fetus is not a valid .
Unfortunately, Florida is one of the latter states. A fetus is 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 . 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 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.