On this blog, we often discuss how damages are calculated in wrongful death lawsuits. These lawsuits concern highly emotional matters, but the calculation of damages itself is highly technical. This contrast can be uncomfortable for many people, but it is important to understand.
When courts measure the damages in wrongful death cases, they mostly try to avoid the emotional issues at stake. Instead they look at things that are easier to measure in terms of money. For instance, courts will look at the loss of the person's income. To simplify: If the court concludes that the victim of the accident would likely have worked, say, another 20 years if not for the accident, then the court will calculate how much income the deceased would have brought to his or her family if not for the accident. The resulting sum may be called "lost future earnings" and will be used to help calculate the damages suffered by the victim's family.
However, how should a court calculate damages if the victim never earned an income at all? This question comes up in many cases involving the tragic death of a child. It's possible for them to come up in cases involving birth injury or the death of a newborn due to medical negligence.
Courts recognize that the loss of a child, or the loss of a child's health, creates financial damages for the child's parents because that child will never be able to earn an income. However, calculating lost future earnings in these cases is highly speculative. Juries may be sympathetic to the parents and wish to grant them a large award in these cases, but judges sometimes limit these awards.
This topic makes many people uncomfortable. No one likes to think of putting a dollar amount on the value of a human life. However, it is an important topic for those who have lost a loved one due to medical malpractice or other forms of negligence. This kind of loss has tangible financial consequences for families, not just emotional consequences. It is important to discuss damages with an experienced attorney.