It is just as difficult to describe an average wrongful death settlement as it is to describe an average person. Every victim of a wrongful death is different. Those differences are among the factors that influence wrongful death compensation.
Wrongful death lawyers take many facts into account when recommending a settlement. This article will help you understand those facts. At the same time, remember that a key factor influencing a wrongful death settlement is the lawyer representing the victim’s family. Experienced wrongful death lawyers with a history of success are more likely to negotiate a fair settlement than new lawyers or those who only dabble in wrongful death cases.
One of the key objectives in a wrongful death settlement is to replace lost income. If a victim was supporting a family, the income that family will lose is critical to a wrongful death calculation.
With the help of actuaries and economists, wrongful death lawyers calculate the current value of lost income that the victim would have contributed to the family over the course of the victim’s life. Two factors are important to that calculation. One is the victim’s age. An 80-year-old accident victim who (according to actuarial statistics) would have lived another five years would not be expected to contribute as much to the family as a 40-year-old accident victim who would probably have lived another 45 years.
The other significant factor is the victim’s occupation and income. High income workers have better lifetime earnings than low income workers. Vocational experts can help us project future income based on the expectation that a person in a certain job will receive promotions and raises during the course of a lifetime.
While age and income have no relationship to the value of a human life, they are important components of settlement calculations. The settlement we can make after the accidental death of a 40-year-old surgeon is higher than the settlement that will follow the death of a senior citizen who retired after a lifetime of working as a window washer. That’s one reason the concept of an “average” settlement has little meaning.
Some states place limits (or “caps”) on the nonfinancial damages that can be awarded in a wrongful death case. Fortunately, California does not do that. The only limitation is that compensation must be reasonable under the circumstances.
Some states allow surviving family members to recover damages for the grief they suffer after losing a loved one. California does not do that either. It does, however, allow family members to recover compensation for the loss of companionship, emotional support, and guidance that the deceased family member provided. Juries give considerable weight to those factors when they award damages in a wrongful death lawsuit.
Wrongful death settlements in California therefore depend in part on the relationship between the deceased victim and the family members who are entitled to seek compensation. Minor children who were estranged from a parent who had abandoned them will usually recover less than minor children who benefitted each day from the parenting that the victim provided.
Settlement values are influenced by factors that only an experienced Orange County wrongful death attorney can evaluate. How likeable are the witnesses? How strong is the evidence of negligence? Did the victim engage in careless behavior that contributed to the accident? If so, how does the victim’s negligence compare to that of the person against whom the claim is brought?
None of those factors can be resolved with scientific precision. They are often determined by a wrongful death lawyer’s gut instinct, but that instinct is honed over the course of years. By representing wrongful death victims and by keeping track of jury verdicts in other wrongful death cases, an experienced lawyer learns how each of those factors will influence settlement value.
While there is no “average” settlement value for a wrongful death, all of the factors identified above can be weighed when comparing a wrongful death case to verdicts and settlements in other cases. Having made those comparisons for many years, experienced wrongful death attorneys are positioned to make informed recommendations about settlement to our clients.
Timothy J. Ryan & Associates has earned a national reputation for aggressive client advocacy and real results. We are proud to offer 100% free, confidential consultations.