Valuing a Wrongful Death Claim

No amount of money will ever truly come close to replacing the loss of a loved one, but receiving some monetary compensation at least gives the family a sense that the responsible party is forced to account for the wrong he/she did and pay a tangible price for his/her actions. The question becomes, though, how does one place a value on human life, as that is what a jury is ultimately being asked to do.

Is it enough to look at the amount of money the deceased will never make, or does the contribution the deceased made to his/her family need to be quantified as well? Wrongful death actions allow claims by both surviving family members and the deceased’s estate, but each claim is looking at very different things. The family’s legal action is focused on the value of the deceased’s life, while the claim by the deceased’s estate is related to the damage directly attributable to the accident itself, and not necessarily the long-term aftermath. Each claim is quite different, as well as the damages a jury may award for each. An exploration of the components that go into valuing a wrongful death claim will follow below.

Family’s Wrongful Death Claim

An important point to understand from the outset is that wrongful death laws are different in every state, and some of Georgia’s rules related to these lawsuits are particularly unique. This is most easily seen in the way wrongful death claims value the life of the deceased. In many states, the value assigned to these lawsuits is rooted in the loss the surviving family members suffered as a result of the death.

However, in Georgia, the family losses have no bearing on this analysis. Instead, the amount of this claim is based on the full value of the deceased’s life according to his/her perspective. Thus, there are economic (tangible) losses and non-economic (intangible) losses that must be assessed, but there is no limit on the amount assigned to the full value. The economic piece looks at the present value of the deceased’s future earnings, and typically includes a detailed look at the deceased’s:

  • Age;
  • Health;
  • Type of employment;
  • Annual income;
  • Time until retirement; and
  • Issues that could diminish earnings, i.e., unemployment, loss of income, illness, etc..

The intangible or non-economic part of this analysis looks at purely subjective factors, and there is no set formula to arrive at a particular number. Rather, the jurors are asked to examine the quality of the deceased’s life, his/her interests, family relationships, and anything else that would reveal the type of person the deceased was and how he/she would value or rate his/her life. However, it is common for jurors to use life expectancy tables as a point of reference for assisting in this valuation

Estate Claim

The second part of valuing a wrongful death case is the estate claim that looks to collect medical costs, funeral expenses, and pain and suffering the deceased may have experienced between the time of the injury and his/her demise. This component is not always a significant part of a wrongful death action, but if pain and suffering were substantial, this claim takes on a larger role. Proving pain and suffering is not easy because of the unique nature of each accident and accident victim, but evidence from doctors and witnesses to the accident that can outline the extent of injuries and the likely scope of anguish, are commonly used to establish the need for this type of recovery.

Contact a Wrongful Death Attorney

Coping with the unexpected and tragic death of a family member will always be difficult, but if the death was due to the negligence of another person or entity, you need to hold him/her accountable for what happened. Our Atlanta wrongful death lawyers understand the suffering you are going through, and want to help you get the compensation your family needs and deserves. Contact the Atlanta office today for a free initial consultation.