What Compensation Is Available in a Wrongful Death Case?
When a family member dies due to another person’s fault, the law allows for the decedent’s survivors to be compensated. A tragic death can result from a motor vehicle crash, a machine accident, an act of medical malpractice or a physical attack, among other causes. But the death alone is not enough to make the person who caused it liable for damages. In New Jersey, there are rules defining who can be compensated and for what types of losses.
A lawsuit known as a wrongful death action is designed to permit recovery of damages that the decedent would have been entitled to claim had the death not ensued. Damages recovered are paid initially to the decedent’s estate and then distributed to eligible relatives, who are usually the decedent’s surviving spouse, children, parents or siblings.
However, there cannot be a lump sum awarded. To be eligible for shares of a wrongful death award, the relatives must show they were financially dependent on the decedent. Further, the damages must directly relate to actual pecuniary losses they suffered. These can include the following:
- Medical expenses associated with the fatal injury
- Reasonable funeral and burial costs
- Loss of monetary support the decedent would have provided had he or she lived
- Loss of services the decedent would have provided, such as personal advice, education, guidance and emotional support
Note that survivors have no right to recover damages for their own pain and suffering due to the death. However, such damages may be recovered through a separate lawsuit known as a survival action. That type of case allows the estate to be compensated for the decedent’s own losses, such as projected earnings for the remainder of his or her lifetime. It also allows compensation for the physical and mental anguish that the decedent suffered from the time of the fatal injury until the point of death.
Wrongful death actions and survival actions are brought by a personal representative of the decedent’s estate, who is either the executor if there is a will or the administrator if the decedent died intestate. If necessary, the court can appoint an administrator for purposes of bringing these actions. If damages are recovered, the executor or administrator distributes them to the eligible beneficiaries.
Proving damages in either type of lawsuit can sometimes demand expert testimony. The projected earnings of the decedent if he or she had survived must be reckoned based on reliable indicators. In addition, an economic value must be placed on the non-monetary services the decedent has allegedly provided to family members. The decedent’s pain and suffering also requires some level of objective measurement. An experienced wrongful death attorney knows how to assemble the necessary proofs.
If you’ve lost a loved one in New Jersey due to another person’s fault, reach out to Kevin T. Kutyla, Esq. in Succasunna for compassionate, aggressive representation. Call 862-354-8931 or contact me online to begin the case evaluation process.