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Wrongful Death


The law of each state governs the amount of damages recoverable by statutory beneficiaries. COMPENSATORY DAMAGES, which are intended to make restitution for the amount of money lost, are the most common damages awarded in wrongful death actions. Plaintiffs who prevail in a wrongful death lawsuit may recover medical and funeral expenses in addition to the amount of economic support they could have received if the decedent had lived and, in some instances, a sum of money to compensate for grief or loss of services or companionship.

Determining the amount of damages in a wrongful death action requires the taking into account of many variables. To compute compensation, the salary that the decedent could have earned may be multiplied by the number of years he most likely would have lived and can be adjusted for various factors, including inflation. Standard actuarial tables serve as guides for the life expectancy of particular groups identified by age or gender. The decedent's mental and physical health, along with the nature of his work, may also be taken into consideration by a jury.

Damages cannot always be calculated on the basis of potential earnings because not everyone is employed. Courts have set minimum yearly dollar amounts for the worth of an individual's housekeeping and for CHILD CARE services.

PUNITIVE DAMAGES may be awarded in a wrongful death case if the defendant's actions were particularly reckless or heinous. Punitive damages are a means of punishing the defendant for his action and are awarded at the discretion of the jury. Any damages recovered are distributed among the survivors subject to the statutes of each state. Courts frequently divide an award based on the extent of each beneficiary's loss.

In 1997, in the wrongful death action brought against O. J. SIMPSON by the families of Ron Goldman and Nicole Brown Simpson, the former football star was required to pay a total of $33.5 million in punitive and compensatory damages. Although he was acquitted in 1995 of murdering his ex-wife and Goldman, a Superior Court jury in Santa Monica, California, found him liable for their deaths. As a result, Nicole Brown Simpson's estate received an award of $12.5 million, while Goldman's estate received $13.475 million and Sharon Rufo, Goldman's mother, received $7.525 million. Simpson retained custody of his two children with Nicole; the children were beneficiaries of her estate.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationWrongful Death - Who May Sue, Immunity From Suit, Damages, Limitations On Recovery Of Damages - The Defendant's Responsibility