Valuing a life for purposes of a wrongful death lawsuit claim can be difficult and emotional, but the right wrongful death attorney can help.
A wrongful death lawsuit claim may be the last thing on your mind when a loved one dies, but soon you may start thinking about it. Such claims can provide important help in dealing with financial burdens caused by unexpected death. Sometimes wrongful death claims bring to light negligent practices so others won’t suffer the same tragedy. Maybe your loved one would have wanted whatever was necessary to provide security to those left behind. Often, survivors find comfort when the legal system acknowledges their loved one’s death and a verdict or settlement recognizes the significance of the loss.
Close family members like spouses, children, or parents can bring a wrongful death claim against any person or entity whose wrongful conduct caused or contributed to their loved one’s death. That is true even if the conduct was not intentional. Such claims are often not available, however, for someone killed on the job; in South Dakota, workers’ compensation generally covers those situations, unless someone other than the decedent’s employer or fellow employee caused the death.
Calculating the Value of Your Wrongful Death Claim
While South Dakota law says that only “pecuniary” losses can be compensated in a wrongful death claim, the term is defined very broadly. Even if the deceased was not providing direct financial support to the surviving next of kin, there may be losses recognized as “pecuniary.” Most often, the total value of the claim is far greater than any amount the deceased may have contributed in the form of paychecks. Therefore, even when it is a young child or an elderly parent who dies, there may be a valid wrongful death claim.
Wrongful Death Damages
Your loved one likely provided many benefits to you. While no judge or jury can ever fully compensate you when death takes those benefits away, they can award damages related to the loss. South Dakota does not allow payment for grief and agony, but does allow compensation for the loss of many positive things you would have enjoyed, had your loved one not died. Damages may include loss of love, advice, companionship, and moral support.
Wrongful death damages also may include the value of lost household services the loved one would have provided and the value of financial assistance surviving family members would have received. Focus is on the survivors’ losses, not what the deceased lost by having life cut short. Funeral and burial expenses also are included.
South Dakota allows punitive damages in some wrongful death claims. Punitive damages are not focused on compensating for losses, but designed to punish the wrongdoer or set an example so others will behave more responsibly. In the case of reckless, willful, or wanton misconduct, a claim for punitive damages may exist in addition to a claim for compensation.
In South Dakota, any claim for personal injury your loved one had immediately before death survives the death and becomes an asset of the decedent’s estate. This is not part of a wrongful death claim, but a separate claim of the estate. Proceeds benefit creditors or beneficiaries of the estate, rather than flowing directly to the next of kin like wrongful death damages. Surviving personal injury claims include claims for injury and consequences of injury, however brief, experienced before death. Those may include medical expenses, pain, anguish, and disability.
Average Wrongful Death Settlements in South Dakota
Because individual situations vary widely, there is no such thing as a meaningful “average” when talking about wrongful death verdicts or settlements. The outcome in any one case likely will depend on a variety of factors, including:
- The nature of the deceased’s relationships with the closest survivors;
- The age and prior health of the deceased loved one;
- The financial and other contributions the deceased made to the lives of loved ones;
- The circumstances of death and the behavior that caused it;
- The identity and circumstances of the wrongdoer, including the extent of the wrongdoer’s insurance and other resources available to pay a claim; and
- The skill and experience of the attorney preparing and presenting the claim.
Based on careful analysis of all relevant factors, an experienced wrongful death attorney will identify the strengths and weaknesses of your claim, estimate the corresponding range of likely values for the claim, and help you decide if it is worthwhile to pursue legal action.
If you have been affected by the death of a loved one and you believe it was a wrongful death, contact the Turbak Law Office for more information or to schedule a free consultation. The attorneys at Turbak Law Office have represented many families on wrongful death claims. They understand that obtaining a substantial verdict or settlement can bring surviving family members solace, security, and closure.