Recovery of Damages in Wrongful Death Litigation

A wrongful death lawsuit is a legal action that attempts to recover damages for the death of a person, where the death is alleged to have resulted from the negligent or wrongful acts of another party.

Wrongful death lawsuits are pursued by the deceased person's estate. The personal representative of the estate of a deceased person obtains permission from the probate court to file a lawsuit against those responsible for the person's death, and then files a lawsuit on behalf of the estate.

Damages in Wrongful Death Cases

Damages permitted in a wrongful death case typically include:

  • Medical, hospital, funeral and burial expenses;

  • Compensation for the decedent's pain and suffering, during any period of consciousness between the time of injury and death;

  • Losses suffered by the decedent's spouse, children, or next of kin, including:

    • loss of financial support;

    • loss of service;

    • loss of gifts or other valuable gratuities;

    • loss of parental training and guidance; and

    • loss of society and companionship.

How are Wrongful Death Damages Awarded

The allocation of damages between the decedent's heirs is typically governed by statute, and is typically subject to court oversight. Courts may look to the laws of intestate succession in relation to how damages should be distributed, but are ordinarily free to approve distributions which award damages to certain family members who would not otherwise be legal heirs of the decedent's estate.

One unfortunate aspect of wrongful death cases is that there is sometimes jockeying between relatives to control the personal representative of the estate, such that they get to select the attorney and have greater influence over the distribution of any award of damages. It can be very disruptive and unpleasant when families seem more concerned about how to divide the award of damages, than they are with the fact that they lost a loved one.

Copyright © 2003 Aaron Larson, All rights reserved. No portion of this article may be reproduced without the express written permission of the copyright holder. If you use a quotation, excerpt or paraphrase of this article, except as otherwise authorized in writing by the author of the article you must cite this article as a source for your work and include a link back to the original article from any online materials that incorporate or are derived from the content of this article.

This article was last reviewed or amended on Jun 3, 2018.