Wrongful Death Damages
A successful wrongful death case means that beneficiaries of the decedent’s estate will receive damages awarded for the death of their loved one. There are three different types of damages that a jury can award a plaintiff in a wrongful death lawsuit: economic, non-economic, and punitive.
Economic damages include the value of the victim’s financial contributions to his or her family if he or she had not died. These damages include all of the following:
- Medical expenses related to the death;
- The victim’s funeral and burial expenses;
- An award for the loss of the victim’s expected earnings;
- Any benefits that are lost, like pension plans and medical coverage;
- The loss of the victim’s inheritance because of the wrongful death; and
- The value of goods and services that would’ve been provided by the deceased loved one.
Although these damages are harder to define, non-economic damages are also part of a wrongful death claim. Some examples of non-economic awards of damages include the following:
- The survivors’ grief and emotional injury, which is known as mental anguish, pain, and suffering;
- The loss of care, guidance, support, and parenting that would have been provided by the deceased; and
- The loss of the deceased’s love and companionship;
Punitive damages include awards that are intended to punish or deter the defendant for particularly egregious, malicious, or severe conduct. A punitive damage award in the state of North Carolina is capped at the greater of three times compensatory damages or $250,000.
What happens if there are no actual damages?
If a court determines that there are no actual damages, North Carolina’s Wrongful Death Act states that a jury may award nominal damages. Courts in our state have held that nominal damages must be awarded in the event that the jury finds that a plaintiff in a wrongful death claim suffered no compensable loss. This is a rare occurrence, and the other categories of damages would still be available.
Factors Involved in Determining Damages
It’s important to note that when juries and judges decide on an appropriate damages award, they are able to take into account things like the victim’s age, character, health, future earning capacity and life expectancy in addition to the situation of the recipients of the award.
The calculation of damages is very complex in many wrongful death cases. Expert witnesses are typically called upon to give their opinions as to the proper amount of damages for a wrongful death victim. In light of this, it’s best to discuss any questions about a potential wrongful death action and damages with an experienced attorney at the Deuterman Law Group.