Settlements in wrongful death claims do not result from the luck of a draw; there is a lot of negotiation and thought put into it. Specifically, there are certain factors taken into consideration that often help the parties determine a just and fair settlement amount. Here are some of the most common factors that go into determining a settlement amount in California.
How strong is the evidence?
The evidence is always important in wrongful death cases. You don’t have a case if you don’t have evidence. And if the evidence is weak, then there may not be a settlement. If the defendant thinks it can successfully argue against you in court, then it won’t settle. But if the evidence is strong, then you have a better position to argue and negotiate. The stronger the evidence, the more likely a good settlement offer.
Were there any medical expenses that accrued prior to your loved one’s death?
If your loved one lived for some time with his or her injuries, then it is quite possible he or she accrued medical bills. These bills do not just go away upon your loved one’s death. The estate will be responsible for the bills. That means less for the decedent’s heirs, and that’s not fair to loved ones.
Compensation must — at a minimum — cover all medical expenses.
Was the death caused by negligence, recklessness, or malice?
Depending on the nature and circumstances of the death, the settlement offer may be more or less. Pure negligence versus an act of malice will return different compensation amounts. But it is important to note that in wrongful death actions, punitive damages cannot be awarded in California. Only in survivor actions can punitive damages be awarded.
How does the victim’s age matter?
Age matters, especially if the decedent was the breadwinner and/or a parent with dependent children. Experts can calculate what a reasonable amount would be for the decedent’s lost income. Imagine, for example, a decedent who is 40 years old versus 80 years old. The amount would potentially be much higher the younger the decedent is. He or should, if deceased at 40, would potentially have lived for another 40 years while an 80-year-old has already exceeded his or her life expectancy.
How does the victim’s income matter?
The victim’s income matters in a similar way as age matters. The more the decedent made, the more his or her lifetime earnings would have been. Thus, the more the award would, theoretically, be. Vocational experts can be used to help determine what the decedent’s future income would have likely been.
How does California’s law affect the amount?
Each state may impose caps on wrongful death awards, and many do, especially with regard to non-economic damages, like pain and suffering. In California, there are no caps on an award. There is one caveat, however, and that is with regard to non-economic damages: compensation cannot be awarded to heirs for their grief or their pain and suffering caused by the decedent’s death.
Things that can be recovered include:
- Financial support the decedent would have contributed;
- Funeral and burial expenses;
- Household services;
- Loss of consortium;
- Loss of affection, protection, and moral support;
- Loss of training and guidance; and
- Loss of sexual relationship.
As you can see, there are a number of important factors that go into determining a settlement award. But the above are only some of these factors. It is always important to seek legal counsel to ensure all relevant factors in your specific case are rightfully considered — it’s the only way to make sure your settlement is just and fair. At Ledger Law Firm, we have the experience, the resources, and the insight to make sure all that should go into determining your case is considered. Contact us today to schedule an