What are Wrongful Death Damages?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Last Modified Date: 05 March 2020
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Wrongful death damages are funds awarded to people who have been harmed by a death for which someone is legally responsible. If someone can be held legally liable for a death, such as when a drunk driver strikes and kills a pedestrian, that person can potentially be sued in civil court by survivors of the deceased. If the plaintiffs are successful, they will be awarded wrongful death damages by the jury.

There are a number of kinds of deaths where no legal liability is present. If a person dies naturally or in what is demonstrably an accident that no one can be held at fault for, the fatality would not be considered a wrongful death. Wrongful deaths are deaths that could have been prevented if someone had taken action, and that failure to take action results in legal liability. Some examples include cases in which people die because of a defective product, improperly performed medical procedure, or negligent act on the part of another person.


There are several types of wrongful death damages that can be awarded. The first is economic damages to compensate people for economic losses associated with the death, including lost wages and funeral expenses. The survivors must demonstrate the amount of loss incurred as a result of the death so that the jury can determine an appropriate amount to award. Non-economic wrongful death damages are related to the psychological costs of the death, such as lost companionship or pain and suffering for people who were present at the time of the death.

Winners of a wrongful death lawsuit can also be awarded interest and fees related to the suit. The loser is required to pay the legal expenses of the winning party, including fees associated with filing documents in the case and attorney fees. Finally, wrongful death damages can also be punitive in nature. For instance, a jury may determine that a company knew that a product was defective and continued manufacturing and advertising it, and decide that the company should be punished for this in addition to being obliged to pay damages to the survivors of people who died.

Determining the amount of wrongful death damages involves examining the facts of the situation and the economic losses associated with it. Juries cannot award an amount deemed unreasonable, but there is considerable leeway. People who can sue for damages include family members, as well as people who experienced economic losses as a result of the death, such as romantic partners in common law marriages.


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