How Much Is Your Wrongful Death Case Worth?
Determining the value of a wrongful death case is complicated and difficult. The general rule in California in wrongful death cases is that one is entitled to recover both economic and non-economic damages, per CACI No. 3921 (Wrongful Death of an Adult).Economic Damages
Economic damages in a wrongful death case include:
(1) Expenses such as medical bills for the care of the deceased before his or her death
(2) Expenses related to funeral, burial, etc.
(3) Amount of money the deceased reasonably would have earned had he or she remained alive
(4) Loss of financial support which spouse, children and/or parents would have received from the decedent during his or her life expectancy.
(5) Reasonable dollar value of household services that the decedent would have provided.
The various factors in determining the amount of support which the decedent would have provided to the plaintiffs:
- Age of the decedent, and age of each heir at the time of death;
- Health of the decedent, and health of each heir immediately prior to death;
- Life expectancies of the decedent and each heir;
- The family relationship - Whether the decedent and the heirs have loving relationship;
- Whether the decedent has a history of financially supporting the heirs;
- The actual earnings and earnings capacity of the decedent, including retirement income;
- Any other facts showing benefits each heir may have reasonable expectation of receiving from the decedent had he or she survived.
Non-economic damages in a wrongful death case include loss of companionship, love/affection, etc (loss of consortium) to surviving family members.
Prior to January 1, 2022, Plaintiffs are not allowed, however, to recover compensation for the pain and suffering of the decedent, for their own grief or sorrow, or for their own poverty or wealth. On October 1, 2021, California signed into law SB 447, which amended California Code of Civil Procedure section 377.34 to permit wrongful death claimants in California to recover damages for decedents’ pain, suffering or disfigurement. S.B. 447 currently has a sunset date of January 1, 2026, but this may change.
The calculation of what one is entitled to recover in a wrongful death case is never easy. The settlement strategy, and the decision to resolve a case by settlement or to proceed to litigation should be made only after consultation with an experienced licensed attorney, and very importantly, after thorough investigation of all the financial resources available for the recovery.
In California, the statute of limitations that applies to a wrongful death lawsuit is two years from the date of the decedent's death. But it is always a good idea to consult an honest and experienced attorney at your earliest convenience.