Wrongful death lawsuits can present challenges both emotionally and in the courtroom. Proving damages is just one aspect of the case. This consists of proving to the jury how much compensation you should be awarded for the defendant's negligent actions.
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Proving the Defendant is Liable for Wrongful Death
The first step in proving damages in a wrongful death case is proving that the defendant is liable for the decedent's wrongful death. If the court rules that the defending party is not liable, it will award no damages to you.
A wrongful death claim can arise out of various types of accidents, including:
It is important to work with an attorney experienced in wrongful death claims to help you build your case.
Listing the Damages in Your Wrongful Death Case
Before going to court, you should list all the damages linked to your wrongful death case. If you are unsure whether an expense is connected to the case, list it and consult with your wrongful death attorney. These damages can be broken into two categories: economic and non-economic damages.
Economic Damages in Wrongful Death Claims
Economic damages are expenses or losses that you can easily quantify. They may have an actual receipt attached to them, like medical expenses or lost wages. Examples of economic damages in wrongful death cases include:
- • Medical bills
- • Lost earnings
- • Lost future earnings
- • Funeral and burial expenses
- • Property damage
These are just a few economic damages that could be linked to your wrongful death claim. The medical bills can be extensive in these claims, particularly if the death in question was not immediate. Medical bills can sometimes include expenses like:
- • Blood tests
- • Laboratory fees
- • X-ray fees
- • Prescription and nonprescription medications
- • Diagnostic tests
- • Facility fees
- • Services of health care professionals, like surgeons and oncologists
In Maryland and Washington D.C., there is no cap, or limit, on economic damages.
Non-Economic Damages in Wrongful Death Claims
Naturally, non-economic damages are more difficult to quantify since they are subjective losses, such as pain and suffering. Examples of non-economic damages in wrongful death claims include:
- • Emotional distress
- • Loss of consortium
- • Loss of enjoyment of life
- • Loss of society and companionship
Although these damages can immensely impact a person's quality of life, translating them into dollar amounts can be challenging. Washington D.C. does not cap non-economic damages. However, Maryland caps the amount of non-economic damages awarded in wrongful death cases. The maximum award varies due to several factors; speaking with lawyers for wrongful death claims can determine the non-economic limit for your case.
Punitive damages are separate from economic and non-economic damages. Courts award these damages to punish the responsible party for their actions. They are meant to deter the parties from making the same mistake again and to deter others from acting similarly.
Courts do not commonly award punitive damages. However, if the defendant's intentional act caused the wrongful death, punitive damages are more likely to be awarded. Neither Maryland nor Washington D.C. caps punitive damages.
Proving Damages Linked to a Wrongful Death
Once you have listed the various damages associated with your case, you must prove that these damages are connected to the wrongful death. You can do this by:
- • Meeting the standard of proof
- • Proving that you were harmed
- • Showing that your loss can be compensated
- • Arguing that the amount you request is justified
The Standard of Proof: Negligence vs. Gross Negligence
The standard of proof is the level of certainty the court must see to establish proof in the proceeding. In Maryland and Washington D.C., the standard of proof for negligence in civil cases is by a preponderance of the evidence. This means you must show it is more likely than not that the defendant was responsible for the wrongful death. This simply proves that the party's careless action caused the wrongful death. The intent is not discussed or proven here.
Gross negligence has a higher standard of proof and is, therefore, more difficult to prove. With gross negligence, you must first prove the defendant was negligent. Next, you must prove intent. You must show the court that the defendant knew their action could cause harm but intentionally carried out the act anyway.
- • A driver accidentally runs a red light and kills someone. ⇒ Negligence.
- • A driver intentionally runs a red light and accidentally kills someone. ⇒ Gross negligence.
In this example, proving the driver ran the red light and caused the wrongful death is the easy part. The challenge here is proving that the driver intentionally ran the red light.
You Were Harmed
If you have made a list of damages, these can help prove your harm. An experienced wrongful death attorney can inspect your list of damages to ensure that everything qualifies as damages in the wrongful death case.
Your Loss Can Be Compensated
Both economic and non-economic damages can be compensated. A wrongful death lawyer can help you estimate the total damages you have incurred, as well as how to best receive compensation for your injuries.
The Amount You Request Is Justified
If your case goes to trial, the jury will consider whether your compensation request is justified. If they think it is, they may award you what you requested. Or, they may award more or less than what you requested. It is entirely up to the jury to determine what amount fairly compensates you for your injuries.
Many wrongful death cases settle out of court. In these situations, your lawyer can handle negotiations with the liable party and help you work out a fair and acceptable settlement.
A Wrongful Death Attorney Can Help Your Case
Proving damages in a wrongful death lawsuit can be complicated, especially when non-economic damages are involved. These cases can come with hefty awards, particularly if the decedent was hospitalized for some time before death or if punitive damages are awarded. An experienced wrongful death attorney will protect your rights inside and outside of the courtroom.
The wrongful death lawyers at D'Amore Personal Injury Law are here to help you receive fair compensation.