Damages in a Wrongful Death Lawsuit

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Jul 15, 2021

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Wrongful death laws vary a great deal from state to state and damages that may be available in one state may be barred in another. It’s very important that you get accurate information on the damages available in your jurisdiction when you evaluate your case. See How a Wrongful Death Lawyer Can Help You for more information.

Available Damages in Wrongful Death Suits


The types of damages that may be available to you in a wrongful death lawsuit include the following:

  • Medical and funeral expenses connected to the death;
  • Loss of the victim’s expected earnings between the time of the death and the expected retirement or death;
  • Loss of benefits like pension plans, medical coverage, and so on;
  • Loss of inheritance;
  • Damages for mental anguish or pain and suffering of the survivors;
  • Loss of care, protection, nurturing, and companionship of the survivors;
  • Punitive Damages (see below).

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Calculating Wrongful Death Damages

In deciding on the amount of damages, the judge or jury will consider many things about the person who died, such as his earning history, his health, and his character. The last may include considerations of how he handled money, such as if he saved, if he gambled, or if he squandered money. The damage recovery may be less for a family whose provider gambled away half his income than for a family whose provider used all his income for family support.

The amount of damages for things like future earnings is reduced to what is called present value. For example, if the decedent had 25 years left to work and was making $60,000 a year, the calculation would not involve multiplying $60,000 by 25 and adding expected wage increases. The amount of damages is an amount that if invested conservatively, will bring in the amount the decedent would have earned over the same period of time.

These calculations are extremely complicated and the parties often use expert witnesses, such as economists, to give their opinion on the proper amount of damages. These calculations don’t include just income earned outside the home, but also the monetary value of care and nurturing provided inside the home. If the homemaker of the family is killed, the family is entitled to recover the costs of his or her many services, such as child care, cooking, laundry, house cleaning, shopping, and transportation.

In some states, plaintiffs can also recover interest on the damages up to the time they are collected. Because state laws differ so much in this area, it’s essential to consult your state law (and/or your wrongful death attorney) to find out if interest is allowed, and, if it is, whether it is calculated from the time of the death, the time the damages were incurred, or the time the lawsuit was filed.

Punitive damages are damages awarded to punish the defendant for especially bad conduct and are not available for wrongful death lawsuits in many states. In the states where punitive damages are allowed, the law generally requires plaintiffs to prove that the defendant’s conduct was particularly deplorable by, for example, demonstrating that the defendant’s actions were intentional or malicious.

The types and amounts of damages that are recoverable in a wrongful death case can vary depending on state law and the specific circumstances surrounding the death. It is wise to consult with an experienced wrongful death attorney right away to evaluate your case and to help you every step of the way.

Additional Resources

Check out the following articles for more information about wrongful death, filing a wrongful death lawsuit and finding an experienced wrongful death attorney.

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