Your family is entitled to compensation after the death of a loved one. The amount of the damages depends on the circumstances of the death and what happened leading up to the person’s death, including the age, economic circumstances, and any pain and suffering that occurred.
These types of damages are typically called “non-economic” damages and are available to beneficiaries who were dependents of the deceased person. The jury instructions in Washington allow these types of beneficiaries to recover for the lost love, companionship, guidance and care caused by the wrongful death. These damages are available to people who relied upon the deceased for support, including children, step-children and brothers or sisters or parents dependent on the deceased for support.
A surviving spouse or domestic partner is also entitled to the loss of support and marital consortium incurred due to the wrongful death. This would include the loss of companionship, including sexual companionship, occasioned by the loss.
The estate and beneficiaries are almost always entitled to the net lost economic gain that resulted from the wrongful death. If the deceased person was working prior to death, we can usually estimate what the person would have earned for the rest of his or her life. The law allows you to recover the net amount, meaning the amount earned minus the amount that would have been spent. We typically employ an economist or expert to help determine this amount.
Certain circumstances will dictate how we reach that number and will vary on a case-by-case basis. The lifelong earnings of a child are difficult to predict as we do not know the level of education or work experience that would make it more predictable. An adult with a work history and past earnings is a bit easier to predict. Most economists use information such as average life expectancy and other variables to make this calculation.
Often we see cases where a person suffered extreme pain and suffering prior to their passing. If the person leaves behind a beneficiary such as a spouse, child, domestic partner or a parent or sibling who was dependent on the deceased for support, these pre-death damages can be collected. Again, these types of damages vary from case to case.
Because the deceased is no longer here to describe his or her pain and suffering or fear of death, we often must rely on witnesses. If the person died instantly and had no realization of his or her impending death, such as an instantaneous death in a car accident, the estate cannot recover anything for the pre-death pain and suffering or fear of death.
Sometimes it is necessary to hire an expert witness, such as a pathologist or doctor, to provide information regarding the deceased’s pre-death pain and suffering. Friends and family or bystanders may also have valuable information about conversations with the deceased or the deceased’s actions prior to death that can help us provide evidence of these damages.
Washington law also allows the estate to recover the expenses necessitated for medical care prior to death. If your family member required medical treatment before he or she passed away, there will certainly be medical bills that accumulate. Even if your insurance covered the expenses, you can recover these amounts and ideally receive enough compensation to cover the costs that are left.
The funeral expenses are also recoverable. After a loved one’s death, the costs for a funeral, burial or cremation can be quite substantial. Be sure to let your wrongful death attorney know about all these types of costs.
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