What is a Wrongful Death Action?

A wrongful death action is a claim seeking damages when the conduct, action, or omission of another party causes injuries that ultimately result in a family member’s premature death.

State and federal laws have wrongful death statutes, which give certain persons the right to bring a claim for damages they have sustained as a result of the loss of their loved one. Damages are not just limited to monetary losses, but also take into consideration factors like the loss of companionship, loss to the estate, or additional losses depending on the circumstances of the case.

Courts often factor in wrongful death when determining the amount of damages in a personal injury claim. The fact finder (judge or jury) can consider the permanent loss of the decedent’s earnings due to his or her wrongful death. The claimant may be entitled to the estimated amount of wages the decedent would have earned for the remainder of his or her life. This is determined by the decedent’s salary at the time of their death (some jurisdictions will also allow foreseeable wage increases), or their support payments. These figures are used to estimate how much they would have earned in their lifetime, based on probable life expectancy, had they not died prematurely.

Punitive damages may be available in a wrongful death action, providing the claimant with additional money. These damages are not intended to compensate the claimant for his or her loss, but rather serve as a punishment against the responsible party. Not all jurisdictions will offer punitive damages for a wrongful death claim. It is important to know the law in your jurisdiction when determining what type of damages to pursue.