All losses that occur as a result of the death, even those related to lost companionship and affection, can be compensated financially through a civil wrongful death action. Civil suits are separate from criminal cases and the same person can be charged criminally and civilly for the same death.
Some of the losses, such as property damage, medical bills, funeral expenses, lost wages, and other quantifiable losses are capped but non-economic damages such as loss of consortium which includes loss of companionship, affection, sexual relationships, and possibly the ability to bear children are not capped when the wrongful death is due to:
- Strict product liability claims
- Negligence or gross negligence
If the incident did not result in immediate death, the estate can also make a claim for pain and suffering.
While the dollar amounts can climb quickly, the actual amount a plaintiff will recover can vary greatly. Most wrongful death lawyers will tell you that deep pockets matter. If someone with very few assets and low automobile liability limits caused the death, recovery will be limited regardless of how much a jury awards because the defendant simply can’t afford to pay. If the deceased had uninsured or underinsured motorist coverage and death was the result of an automobile accident, it might be possible to collect additional funds from the insurance company but only up to the limits of the policy.
After the defendant’s assets and insurance coverages are exhausted, collecting under a wrongful death claim becomes unlikely.
In cases where the behavior that caused the death is considered egregious, such as someone who already has a DUI conviction driving under the influence, punitive damages may also be awarded to punish the wrongdoer and let the community know that that type of behavior will not be tolerated.