When a loved one dies, it can take an enormous emotional toll on family members, and can cause financial hardship. When the death was the result of someone else's negligent or intentional act, there may be a legal remedy for survivors:
A civil action brought by the survivors—or the estate—of a person who died due to the negligence or intentional actions of another is called a "wrongful death" case.
Each state has its own specific set of laws governing wrongful death claims, including who can file a wrongful death lawsuit, and the various types of damages that can be recovered.
The kinds of damages that are available in a wrongful death case vary from state to state (and can overlap with a related "survival" action brought after a loved one's death), but compensation for a fairly wide variety of losses is often possible.
These kinds of losses—which are subjective and often difficult to capture with a dollar figure—typically include:
Note that some (not most) states (including Florida and Illinois) specifically allow certain family members to receive compensation for their own mental pain and suffering or grief stemming from a loved one's death.
These losses are easier to capture with a dollar figure, but they often require the input of qualified financial/economics experts:
In most states, punitive damages are an option in a wrongful death lawsuit if the defendant (the person or entity being sued for wrongful death) acted recklessly or intentionally in connection with the death. Punitive damages are awarded to the plaintiff (the person filing the lawsuit), but they're meant to punish the wrongdoer.
In determining what types of damages will be awarded in a wrongful death lawsuit, a court will look to the specifics of the wrongful death laws in the state, and may need to interpret those laws as part of an analysis of the deceased's relationships with the different surviving family members. But typically, wrongful death damages can be awarded to:
Yes. The rules of each state specify when a wrongful death lawsuit needs to be filed, under a law called a statute of limitations. Two years from the date of the decedent's death is a fairly common deadline, but you can get the details on wrongful death laws where you live (including the statute of limitations lawsuit time limit) in our State Wrongful Death Laws article collection.
There's no reliable data to offer when it comes to the average value of a wrongful death case. Claim value depends on a whole host of very case-specific factors, including:
A wrongful death claim isn't the kind of legal matter you want to try handling on your own. A successful case requires the ability to interpret your state's laws, assemble the necessary proof (often including complex economic evidence) and advocate for the best result. That makes it essential to have the right legal professional on your side.
Learn more about getting help from a personal injury lawyer. And if you're ready to reach out for help now, you can use the features right on this page to connect with an injury attorney near you.