What Is the Average Settlement in a Wrongful Death Case?Posted on: January 2, 2021
No two wrongful death cases are alike…
…and the same goes for wrongful death settlements.
In our nearly 70 years of combined experience, the attorneys at Beers & Gordon have handled a wide range of cases. Some of our clients have been the victims of horrible auto accidents. Some have been catastrophically injured and face a lifetime of repercussions. Others may have been mugged as a result of negligent security.
We meet people on some of the worst days of their lives. But none of these cases are as tragic and sorrowful as wrongful death claims.
In these types of cases, we understand that no amount of money can truly compensate for the grief you are experiencing. Frankly, it is difficult (if not impossible) to put a value on someone’s life.
Receiving a settlement from the party at-fault can help pay off outstanding debt, replace a lost source of income, and give you the time and space you need to step back from your burdens and responsibilities so you can properly mourn.
As you may already have experienced, an unexpected death can turn your life upside down in a multitude of ways. Wrongful death settlements are designed to provide some measure of relief from that turmoil. But how much should you expect?
Unfortunately, no blog post can tell you how much your settlement will be. Wrongful death settlements are determined based on a number of factors that are unique to each individual case. Even an average settlement amount will not reflect the details present in your case.
What Factors Determine Your Settlement Amount?
The best way to estimate your settlement amount is to share as much information with your attorney as possible. S/he will be able to make an educated guess based on the unique factors of the case.
There are five main categories that are used to determine your settlement amount.
1. Earning Potential
One of the biggest economic factors in a wrongful death case is the amount of net accumulation, or the expected income the deceased would have had over the course of their lifetime.
For example, a young surgeon may have millions of dollars in net accumulation, while an older retired individual may not have any provable claim.
If the victim had a family, their surviving spouse and/or children haven’t just lost a beloved family member, but their financial security as well.
Another factor in the value of a wrongful death case is the age of the deceased individual.
While the value of someone’s life is not determined by their age, jurors tend to see the value of a child or young person more than they do of someone in their eighties. The common sense explanation for this perception is that the younger individual missed out on many years of life experiences, such as getting married and having children, while a retired 80-year-old has had many years time to experience these life events.
The missed opportunity for a full life is a strong consideration of the jurors.
3. Emotional Impact
One of the biggest non-economic factors is the emotional impact of the person or persons who are considered the beneficiaries of the estate.
While any unexpected death places a certain level of psychological stress on the survivors, certain facts may be a greater cause for sympathy by a jury than others.
For example, parents who have lost a young child are put under an exceptional emotional burden. Most jurors could not fathom the unimaginable pain of losing a child and thus tend to place a greater value on the loss of a child.
4. Manner of Death
While it is terrible to consider and difficult to discuss, the manner in which the death occurred can impact the value of a case.
A more painful or prolonged passing will likely warrant a higher settlement than a quick, painless one. For example, a product defect that causes someone to be burned alive will typically result in a higher settlement than a car crash where the death occurred instantaneously.
5. Insurance Coverage
Unfortunately, however, the biggest factor in the settlement of a wrongful death case has nothing to do with the circumstances of the death itself, but the amount of insurance coverage of the at-fault party.
Few people have the kind of assets needed to cover a full settlement amount (a fair one, that is). In these cases, it is actually their insurance companies that pay for the settlement. Yet, sadly, we have been involved in numerous cases where the at-fault party had limited coverage and few assets.
Even though the value of the case may be millions of dollars, the settlement amount is often limited to the amount of insurance available.
Your Attorney’s Experience Matters
Perhaps the largest factor determining your wrongful death settlement amount is the legal representation you use.
Studies have shown that those who work with a personal injury attorney receive significantly higher settlements than those who don’t. But just finding any personal injury attorney is no guarantee of a successful resolution to your case. The experience of your attorney is far more important.
Without a certain level of experience, your attorney might not identify all potential insurance policies or other avenues of recovery. If your attorney does not spend the time examining every avenue (or, worse still, doesn’t know how or where to look), you could miss out on valuable compensation that would make a huge difference in your life.
You also will need honest answers about the viability of your claim. We have seen unfortunate circumstances when people have been informed that they will get compensated for their loved ones’ passing…only to later learn that no liability exists.
This happens because the case was not evaluated critically by an experienced attorney. These individuals who come to us from other offices advise us that losing the case felt like losing their loved ones all over again. That should never happen.
As much as we hate to meet clients in this way, those who have been deprived of their loved one as a result of a wrongful death deserve representation. We are honored to provide that service for them.
Having an experienced, empathetic attorney will make all the difference, not just when it comes to your settlement amount, but in terms of your experience throughout the case. The last thing that you need during this tragic time is to be treated like a number. At Beers & Gordon, our caring and compassionate staff is always available to provide the support and guidance you need.
If you have lost a loved one as a result of another’s negligence or ill will, a wrongful death suit can give you a sense of closure and justice, as well as provide financial compensation to help you cope with your new normal.
Call today to schedule your free consultation with a wrongful death attorney.