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What Damages Are Awarded in a Wrongful Death Suit? - The Larsen Firm
An image of a gavel on law books with text reading "wrongful death lawsuit damages."

What Damages Are Awarded in a Wrongful Death Suit?

When a person you love dies suddenly, you may feel shock, disbelief, bewilderment, and like your life has been ripped apart. If your loved one’s death resulted from another person’s negligence, The Larsen Firm can help you secure compensation for your losses.

When Can You Make a Wrongful Death Claim?

A wrongful death lawsuit allows the surviving family to hold someone responsible for the consequences of their negligent actions. Wrongful death lawsuits are common after a car accident, construction accident, or slip and fall that results in death. Wrongful death lawsuits are meant to compensate the close family for losing their loved one’s financial and emotional support. As attorneys, we know that no amount of money will replace your lost loved one. Still, a wrongful death award can compensate you for associated financial losses and help you begin to recover.

What Damages Does the Wrongful Death Statute in California Allow?

California’s wrongful death statute provides a legal pathway for the surviving family to hold someone accountable for a death caused by someone else’s misconduct. Wrongful death statutes in other states sometimes limit the scope of the cause of action or the amount of damages you can recover. The only damage cap California has is a cap on non-economic damages in wrongful death cases based on medical malpractice. If your loved one died because of a medical professional’s negligence, you cannot recover more than $250,000 in non-economic damages. Interestingly, this current limit will increase to $500,000 under a bill signed on May 23, 2022. This bill includes a yearly increase of $50,000 until it reaches $1 million. Otherwise, the family can claim reimbursement for the total value of their objectively verifiable economic damages.

What Are Economic Damages in a Wrongful Death Suit?

Compensatory damages reimburse the family for the losses resulting from a loved one’s unexpected death, including economic and non-economic damages. A wrongful death award will compensate a family for all economic (i.e., financial) losses, including:

  • Funeral and burial costs;
  • The loss of income ordinarily contributed to the family by their lost loved one;
  • The family member’s loss of opportunity to receive gifts and benefits from the loved one; and
  • The value of the household services that the loved one provided.

The family can calculate their economic losses from receipts, pay stubs, or contractual payment arrangements. The value for a loss of income is based on the family member’s or loved one’s life expectancy—whichever is shorter. When wrongful death cases go to trial, the jury must determine the life expectancies based on age, health status, habits, activities, lifestyle, and occupation. Your calculation should consider these factors.

What About Non-Economic Damages in a Wrongful Death Award?

California also allows close family members to recover the value of non-economic damages incurred after a loved one’s death. Unlike other negligence cases, wrongful death awards do not compensate the surviving family for emotional pain and suffering. Family cannot claim reimbursement for injuries like grief, sorrow, or mental anguish. The loved one’s pain and suffering before death are also not considered in a wrongful death case. 

The specific non-economic losses a family can recover include:

  • The loss of the person’s love, companionship, comfort, care, assistance, protection, affection, society, and moral support;
  • The loss of the enjoyment of sexual relations with a spouse; and
  • The loss of a parent’s training and guidance.

When a wrongful death case goes to trial, a jury decides the value of non-economic damages. California Civil Jury Instruction (CACI) 3291 instructs the jury to determine a reasonable amount of compensation based on the evidence and their common sense. California courts allow juries to consider the closeness of a family unit, the depth of their love and affection, and the person’s character as being kind, attentive, and loving. Your attorney will help you collect the evidence you need for a justifiable valuation of your non-economic losses.

What Are Punitive Damages?

Punitive damages are awarded as punishment for malicious conduct. California courts do not usually allow punitive damages in wrongful death cases because the claims are ordinarily based on negligence. However, California courts have granted punitive damages in cases where the defendant was convicted of felony homicide.

What Should I Know About Wrongful Death Settlements in California?

Most wrongful death claims end with a settlement. To avoid expensive litigation, many defendants will offer you a settlement in exchange for dropping your wrongful death lawsuit. To know if a settlement amount is fair, you must know what losses you should be compensated for. However, be wary of using an online wrongful death settlement calculator. These are usually significantly inaccurate since the person inputting the information may not know what can and should be included. The best way to get a valid estimate is to use an attorney who knows how to evaluate damages properly.

Recent Wrongful Death Settlements: What to Expect from The Larsen Firm

While every case is different, The Larsen Firm has a proven record of success. Our attorneys have secured many settlements for our clients with wrongful death claims, including:

  • $10.8 million lifetime payout for a minor child’s parents after death caused by a defective tire;
  • $4.5 million settlement after an auto accident killed a family member;
  • $11.7 million settlement offered to the wife and daughter of a man killed on a road construction project in Contra Costa County; and
  • Over $1 billion for our clients over the life of our firm.

Stop wondering, What damages are awarded in a wrongful death suit? When you call The Larsen Firm, you will reach an experienced attorney who can help you through this difficult time. Your attorney will explain what you need to do to prepare for a wrongful death case. We can also help you decide if any settlement offer you receive is fair. When you contact a professional wrongful death attorney at The Larsen Firm, you take the first step toward recovery after the death of your loved one. Let us handle the legal details of your case while you focus on your health and family.

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