There seems to be a misconception that family members can only file a wrongful death lawsuit against the liable party if the decedent earned income in some way. While it is true it is easier to ask for awards on the deceased person's income at the time of his or her death, you can still sue for damages even if the person never earned a dime in his or her life. Here's what you need to know about recovering damages for the wrongful death of an unemployed person:
Damages Based on Contributed Value
In a wrongful death suit, the surviving family members are given a financial award that essentially reflects the value of their loss. The amount of income a person earned, or could potentially earn, is only one of several ways to quantify the value of a human life. Even though someone may not have contributed financially to the family, the individual likely contributed in other ways that may have an equivalent monetary value.
For instance, a retired grandmother who babysat her grandchildren while her daughter worked will be viewed as providing childcare services. The daughter can factor in the value of the loss of those services when determining how much to ask the defendant to pay for the wrongful death of her mother. In Alabama, for example, the average cost of childcare is $5,637 and the daughter could request that amount for several years so she can purchase replacement care for her children.
While it may be more challenging to assess the value of certain benefits the deceased family member provided to the family (e.g., companionship, parental guidance), it is still possible to work out a number that adequately reflects the loss. For example, you can break down all the services a parent provides a child and assign a cost based on how much professionals charge for similar services (e.g., parental counseling = $70 to $100 per hour of therapy).
It's best to consult with an attorney for assistance with assessing the financial losses associated with your loved one's death. It may be necessary to employ the assistance of other professionals (e.g., economist) to come up with the right value.
Damages Based on Defendant Conduct
In addition to being awarded money for the financial loss of your loved one, you may also be given money due to the defendant's conduct. Called punitive damages, this money is typically given to the plaintiff above and beyond the amount the plaintiff asked for as a way to punish the defendant for his or her actions if the defendant's conduct was particularly egregious.
For instance, Hyundai was ordered to pay $73 million in punitive damages to the parents of two teens killed in a car crash caused by a defective part in the vehicle. The court levied this "fine" against the car maker because the manufacturer knew for years that the part was defective and did nothing to adequately fix the problem or notify consumers about it.
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