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Monetary Damages in Wrongful Death Cases

About Wrongful Death Lawsuits

Legal actions for wrongful death can be very complex, especially when the harmful acts of several parties contributed to an individual’s death. Some parties may settle the matter before the case goes to trial; others may see it all the way to a verdict. No matter who the defendant is, the amount and type of financial recovery the plaintiff can make depend on the law of the state in which the case takes place. Contact an attorney to discuss your legal rights.

A Brief History of Wrongful Death Law

In the distant past, there was no legal right to recover for a loved one’s wrongful death. Once a person died, the rights surrounding the cause of the death died, too. If a person was injured and filed a lawsuit on his or her own behalf, and that person died before the case concluded, the case simply was dismissed.

Seeing the unfairness of this system, legislatures passed laws called wrongful death statutes. Each state passed its own law, so the rules differ depending on the state. This is why it is so important to have the help of a lawyer who knows the law in your state.

How Damages Are Calculated in Wrongful Death Lawsuits

Although states have differing approaches to awarding monetary damages in wrongful death lawsuits, most of them share some principles in common.

The death must have been caused by the wrongful actions of another. Someone must take legal action in response. This person is typically a surviving spouse, parent or child of the person who has passed away. Aunts and uncles, cousins and people who act as parents (but are not biological or adoptive parents) are usually not eligible to recover under a wrongful death statute.

Courts award damages for wrongful death based on varying theories, depending on their jurisdiction. Theories of recovery in wrongful death lawsuits include pecuniary loss; this means that the defendant must compensate the plaintiff for the money that the deceased would have provided had he or she lived. The amount includes income, pension distributions and even services such as taking care of the children. Another theory of recovery permits the plaintiff to collect compensation for the loss of love, companionship and guidance of the deceased. This is especially relevant for children who have lost a parent. Some states allow punitive damages against the defendant as well.

Speak with a Lawyer

If you believe that you have a wrongful death claim based on the loss of your loved one, contact an experienced attorney today. The amount of time you have to file a legal action, and the type of damages you should ask the court to award you and your family, will vary depending on the specific laws of your state. A knowledgeable lawyer can help you sort out your options.

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Auto Accident Injuries and Compensation

An individual who has been injured in an automobile accident may be able to seek monetary compensation for injuries and damages. Cases are fact specific, typically with complex issues of proof and fault in dispute. Working with an experienced attorney will help you sort out your legal options.

Compensation for Your Losses

The injured party in a motor vehicle accident may be able to recover damages from the party or parties who caused the accident. Damages are monetary compensation for the victim’s injuries or losses. Compensable injuries include physical injuries like broken bones, spinal cord injuries and head injuries; the pain and suffering caused by physical injuries may also be compensable.

Damages may also be sought to pay for the victim’s medical bills — bills that arose directly after the accident, in addition to reasonable future medical bills. If the victim requires rehabilitative services or accommodations, such as physical therapy or a ramp leading to the home, these costs may be recovered. The accident victim also may recover lost past and future wages. Compensation for damage to personal property may also be recoverable.

Other damages that are more difficult to quantify may also be sought. Mental pain and suffering may be compensable, as may permanent impairment or disfigurement. Loss of enjoyment of life is also compensable in certain situations.

If the injured person was already suffering from a previous injury, that does not necessarily bar monetary recovery. The accident may have aggravated or worsened the victim’s existing injury, and the new injury can be treated as a separate matter from the underlying injury.

If you have been injured in an auto accident, it is a good idea to keep a daily diary documenting how the injury is affecting you, both emotionally and physically. This can be of great assistance when it comes time to show the effects of the accident.

Spouse’s Damages: Loss of Consortium

Even if the spouse of the motor vehicle accident victim was not in the car at the time of the crash, the spouse may also be experiencing a loss. Almost every state recognizes the claim of loss of consortium. Loss of consortium refers to the negative effect the accident has had on the marital relationship. The marital relationship generally comes with certain benefits, such as companionship, comfort, assistance, sexual relations and affection; the loss of consortium can be temporary or permanent.

Auto Insurance

It is most often the case that auto accident victims who recover in court or via a settlement are paid by the other driver’s insurance company. If the other driver is uninsured or underinsured, however, the accident victim must pursue other means of recovery.

The insurance policy of the victim may have an uninsured-motorist or underinsured-motorist provision that will compensate the victim. Other types of insurance policies, available through the victim’s spouse or employer, may also provide benefits. How significant a benefit and whether it is available depends, of course, on the specifics of the policy itself.

Amount of Financial Recovery

The level of damages to which the auto accident victim may be entitled depends on numerous factors. State law, the victim’s injuries, proving the facts of the case and even the victim’s own actions can come into play. So can the type and length of medical treatment, the insurance coverage of each party, the effect of the accident on the victim’s income and the permanence of the injuries. This is why an experienced attorney can be such a strong ally in planning the case and assessing damages.

Contact an Attorney

A motor vehicle accident can have catastrophic consequences, both for the victim and the victim’s family. Contact an attorney to discuss your legal options.

Speak with an Experienced Long Beach, CA Car Accident Attorney

How you handle the situation after a motor vehicle accident can make a significant difference in your monetary recovery. Dealing with insurance companies can be especially tricky. Speaking with an attorney will help to clear up the confusion these systems can cause.

We offer a free legal consultation to help you understand your rights, if you have an accident claim, and the potential value of your case. For a free consultation with attorneys experienced in accident settlements and lawsuits, contact us today.

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Settlements and Damages In Wrongful Death Cases

Wrongful death actions can be very complicated, as the wrongful acts of several parties may have contributed to an individual’s death. Pre-trial, out of court settlements are common in wrongful death cases, because most defendants want to avoid the publicity of having caused a death. When such out-of-court settlements occur, a reduction of the wrongful death damages award issued by a judge or jury will also occur. Thus, if a plaintiff settles a claim against one defendant, the plaintiff’s recovery from any other defendant is thereby reduced. Additionally, the plaintiff’s release of one defendant frees that defendant from liability to contribute to any other defendant, and waives his/her claim for any contribution from co-defendants. In other words, the released defendant is out of the action, and the remaining defendant(s) will pay no more than their comparative share of the culpable conduct as found by the jury.

As a procedural matter, the court takes any evidence of a payment to or settlement with another party, which is offered by a defendant in mitigation of that defendant’s own liability for damages. The court then deducts the proper amount, if any, from the jury’s award. Thus, the defendant in a wrongful death action has the burden of proving that a plaintiff has settled with another party. In the end, if the defendant is able to prove the existence of such a payment, then the court must reduce the award by the appropriate amount.

The law governing wrongful death actions also provides for the reduction of a damages award in proportion to any payments to the plaintiff from “collateral sources.” A collateral source may include insurance (except life insurance), Social Security, workers’ compensation, or employee benefit programs. However, a reduction in the damages award is appropriate in only two situations: 1) in an action for medical malpractice; and, 2) an action by a public employee against his employer or fellow worker for personal injury or wrongful death.

Medical Malpractice Deductions

In a medical malpractice action, if the court finds there was a payment from a collateral source, then the court must reduce the damages award by the amount of the payment minus the amount the plaintiff paid in premiums for such benefits in the two years before the action accrued, minus the projected future cost to the plaintiff of maintaining his or her benefits.

Reduction in Damages from Collateral Sources

Similarly, a reduction in the damages awarded may occur in a wrongful death and/or personal injury action by a public employee against a public employer, who is subject to indemnification when the injury occurs while the plaintiff was acting within the scope of his employment. In such a case, the court must reduce the award for payments from collateral sources provided or paid for by the public employer. This includes paid sick leave, medical benefits, death benefits, dependent benefits, a disability retirement allowance, and Social Security (except those benefits provided under title XVIII of the Social Security Act). However, these collateral sources do not include those entitled by law to a lien against the plaintiff’s recovery. If the court finds such a payment from a collateral source, then the court must reduce the award by that amount minus the amount the public employee contributed for that benefit.

Suggested Reading: FAQs About Wrongful Death Law

Contact an Experienced Southern California Wrongful Death Attorney for Compassionate and Caring Legal Representation

The plaintiff’s trial lawyers and appellate attorneys of Stolpman, Krissman, Elber & Silver, LLP, are well known and respected for the quality of the legal representation they provide and for the impressive results they achieve for their clients.

To arrange a free consultation with a member of our law firm, call us at (562) 435-8300 or contact us by e-mail. From offices in Long Beach, our lawyers represent clients in the Los Angeles area and throughout Southern California.

To learn more about our wrongful death attorneys, please follow the links below:

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