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Determining Pecuniary Loss In A Wrongful Death Case

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Pecuniary losses form an integral part of a wrongful death case. These are losses that can be measured in monetary terms (such as lost wages), unlike losses that are difficult to measure in terms of money (such as pain and suffering). There are several methods and ways of calculating pecuniary losses, and the common ones are:

Determination of the Direct Monetary Losses 

One of the first things is to determine what the monetary losses that the decedent's loved ones have suffered as a result of the wrongful death. These damages include things like:

  • Loss of earning
  • Funeral expenses
  • Medical bills
  • Loss of benefits (for example, if the family was reliant on the decedent's health insurance)

Expert Testimony

The above losses are relatively easy to calculate, with the operative word here being "relative." As you may suspect, it is not exactly easy to calculate how much a person would have earned in his or her lifetime due to the unknown nature of the future. In many cases, expert witnesses (in this case financial experts or economists) are brought in to make the calculations. They do this by factoring different issues such as:

  • Last salaries
  • Expected promotions or growth of business (if the decedent was a business person)
  • Age
  • Education

Jury Award

The jury will use the economist's testimony as well as other evidence for and against the case to award the relevant damages. In a few jurisdictions where punitive damages are allowed, the jury is also expected to come up with an appropriate figure. States that permit punitive damages use it both as punishment for the guilty party, and as a warning to others who may cause the same injury.

Court's Adjustment

Rarely is the jury's award used as the final figure for compensating the decedent's loved ones. In many cases, the court adjusts the figure to what it believes is just and fair to all parties. Some of the factors that the court may use to arrive at the final figure include:

  • Limits for each damage according to the state's laws
  • The behavior of the decedent –for example, the court may revise the damages downward if the decedent used to squander most of his or her money and leave his or her family to suffer

As you can see, there are many issues that come into play when pecuniary losses are calculated. Thus, it is not easy to predict what the jury may award. It is best to listen to your lawyer during the negotiations or trial because he or she has handled similar issues in the past and may have an inkling of what to expect. For more information, contact a personal injury lawyer like Greg S. Memovich.