Few things are as hard in law as calculating wrongful death damages.
Life is the most rare of things in the universe. There is a lot of rock out there. A lot of dust too. But in the scope of all we know, human a life is truly unique and special.
Connecticut law compensates plaintiffs in wrongful death cases for both economic and non-economic damages. You can read about the difference here. This post deals with non-economic damages in wrongful death cases.
Non-economic damages in the wrongful death action consist of (1) any pain and suffering experienced before death, (2) the loss of the life itself, and (3) the destruction of the ability to continue life’s activities.
What The Jury Can Consider For Wrongful Death Damages
In evaluating the damages for the loss of the life and the destruction of the ability to continue life’s activities, the fact finder must consider the details of the decedent’s life. The lawyer for decedent’s estate is must present an overall picture of the decedent’s activities to enable the jury to make an informed evaluation of the total destruction of the decedent’s ability to carry on life’s activities.
This includes the loss of the ability to marry and have a family, and the loss of the ability to pursue a career and become involved in community activities. Hobbies, recreations, and missing important future events may be considered. For example, if the decedent was a lifelong Cubs fan and they win the World Series just after his death – a jury may consider that as a compensable event.
What The Jury Can’t Consider For Wrongful Death Damages
The jury can’t consider the issues from the standpoint of the estate’s beneficiaries. This is a difficult prism in which these cases operate. The tears of a son missing a father aren’t to be considered. What a jury considers is the father’s loss of spending time with his son. The financial needs of the beneficiaries can’t be considered. It doesn’t matter if the kids are wealthy or poor. And most interestingly, the remarriage of the decedent’s spouse does not affect the damages for the wrongful death.
Wrongful Death Summary
The wrongful death cases that I have worked on have been some of the hardest cases of my career. Figuring out how to capture the essence of the person who has been killed requires a lot of time. And more than time it requires a lot of empathy. It means going to dark places. The void the loss has created in the universe. It means going to the person’s home. Sitting in their chair. Going to where they worked. Breaking bread with the family. Spending time in the house. Looking at the loved one’s books. Trying desperately to capture who the person was. It is the only way any lawyer can convey the loss of father, or daughter, or son, or mother to a jury, judge or mediator.
Click here for a wrongful death jury verdict form. You can see how a Hartford jury valued a life in 2014. A task I don’t envy. But work that must be done.