When filing a wrongful death claim, knowing how much your claim is worth can be a challenging issue. Taking the time to figure out the different types of damages while dealing with the grief of losing a loved one makes the task even more daunting. Sorting out the differences between economic and non-economic damages can be key to figuring out the amount of compensation you may be able to expect.
Here is what you need to know.
Economic damages are the expenses that can be concretely calculated. This can include property damage, medical bills, and funeral expenses. As a rule of thumb, if there is an explicit bill for it, it is an economic damage. Economic damages are typically easy to calculate by totaling the costs involved with a wrongful death.
Non-economic damages are more subjective than economic damages. These are damages that cannot be easily quantified or translated into monetary values. As a result, they can be difficult to calculate for a wrongful death claim.
These can include, but are not limited to:
Pain and Suffering
Pain and suffering includes the physical and emotional consequences of losing a loved one, including but not limited to:
- Loss of enjoyment of life
- Loss of Appetite
- Lack of Energy
- Mood Swings
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, in more extreme cases
Pain and suffering damages might also include lost wages if the emotional repercussions prevent the victim’s immediate family from returning to work. In a wrongful death case, the pain and suffering of both the victim and their loved ones may be compensable.
Loss of Consortium
Loss of consortium is a compensation for losing a family member. This type of damage is only recognized in cases involving extreme, permanent injuries or wrongful death. Loss of consortium seeks restitution for the loss of companionship, comfort, guidance, affection, love, or sexual relations that a family member provided.
In many jurisdictions, only spouses are allowed to seek loss of consortium damages. However, other jurisdictions have expanded their rules to include children in cases involving the loss of their parents.
If the court determines that the negligence or recklessness that led to a wrongful death was particularly egregious, they may also award punitive damages. These damages are meant as both punishment for the defendant and as a deterrent to future defendants in a similar position. Punitive damages are often capped at certain amounts, and they can also have minimum amounts. In Massachusetts, punitive damages for a wrongful death are at least $5,000 by law.
Proving Non-Economic Damages
Non-economic damages must be proven in court, and because they are rough monetary estimate of a personal experience they require a more diverse set of support than economic damages. Physical or mental therapy bills, medical reports, expert witness testimonies, photos of injuries, or prescription information can all help prove the extent of pain and suffering. For loss of consortium claims, courts often require a valid marriage license for spouses.
Calculating Non-Economic Damages
Calculating non-economic damages can be tricky by their very nature. There is no formula under Massachusetts law to assist in determining such damages. Jurors are only asked to use their wisdom, judgment and sense of basic justice to translate into dollars the amount which will fairly and reasonably compensate the plaintiff for his/her injuries. Only very recently, the Massachusetts legislature has changed the law to allow attorneys to suggest to a jury specific dollar amounts for a damage award. What this means as a practical matter is that, in addition to providing figures for medical expenses and lost earnings, a lawyer in Massachusetts can assist a jury in calculating non-economic damages.
Because non-economic damages such as pain and suffering are so subjective, and an attorney can suggest whatever dollar figure he or she can support with that evidence, there is a wide range of damage awards for seemingly similar injuries. It is the responsibility of the plaintiff’s lawyer to convey to the jury how each specific plaintiff has uniquely endured the consequences and hardships of an injury.
In order to understand the extent to which a jury would assess damages in a personal injury trial, the lawyer must understand the human and individual nature of a plaintiff’s damages.
Furthermore, it is imperative to provide credible support for such damages, including a well-prepared plaintiff who can articulate the damages, documentary support, and supportive, credible witnesses.
Receiving a fair compensation for a loved one’s wrongful death cannot bring them back, nor can it truly fill the void they leave behind. However, it can help ease the expensive medical bills and funeral costs that arise from a sudden death. Further, knowing that the liable parties have been held legally responsible can give some peace of mind in a time of great turbulence. If you’ve lost a loved one, contact Mazow | McCullough, P.C. today. We can help you seek justice by determining the value of your wrongful death claim, helping you file a claim, and assisting you through the civil suit process. Call today for a free consultation at (978) 744-8000.