What Damages Are Awarded in a Wrongful Death Lawsuit in Massachusetts?
A wrongful death suit is a lawsuit filed by the surviving family because of someone else’s death. Wrongful death suits can be complicated because plaintiffs may sue on behalf of decedents and surviving family members. A variety of damages may be claimed in a wrongful death lawsuit. Before beginning your lawsuit, you should speak with an attorney about what kind of damages you can claim in your case.
Wrongful death lawsuits can involve damages for decedents’ estate in addition to surviving family members. When suing for damages for a decedent’s estate, the estate is awarded compensation, and that compensation will descend according to the decedent’s will. There may also be an opportunity to claim punitive damages, which are designed to punish defendants. However, punitive damages are barred in most circumstances and may be more limited. While damages are often quite significant in wrongful death claims, they might be capped by statutes or circumstances, and there might be a maximum limit.
Call the Law Office of John J. Sheehan at (617) 315-6412 to set up a free, private legal consultation about your case with our Massachusetts wrongful death attorneys.
Economic Damages in a Wrongful Death Case in Massachusetts
Damages for wrongful death lawsuits can be found under Mass. Gen. Laws Ch. 229 § 2. As with many other kinds of lawsuits, economic damages may be claimed as part of a wrongful death lawsuit. However, these damages will be based on how the decedent passed away and what kind of expenses were incurred due to the death. In some cases, there are few economic damages, especially when the death is sudden or instantaneous and medical care is unnecessary. In other cases, economic damages may be very high, such as when a person dies after being provided extensive medical care.
Economic damages can include the costs of a funeral and any medical expenses related to the death of your loved one. For example, suppose your loved one was injured in a car accident and taken to a hospital before they passed away. In that case, the hospital bills and the loss of your loved one’s vehicle can be included as economic damages.
You may also include the decedent’s lost earnings, including lost future earnings. In many cases, a decedent was their household’s primary breadwinner, and without the decedent’s financial support, the household would struggle. When someone dies, their family will miss out on potential years of income that the decedent would have otherwise earned.
Damages like lost earnings and other forms of financial support can be difficult to determine as they involve money that could have been earned but never will be. You must consider factors like the trajectory of your loved one’s career and their projected earning potential. If your loved one was likely to enjoy a successful and lucrative career, you might be able to claim more damages.
Our Boston wrongful death lawyers can help you calculate the economic damages related to your loved one’s death.
Damages for the Victim’s Family in a Wrongful Death Case in Massachusetts
Wrongful death cases are unique because they allow people other than the decedent to claim damages. Under the statute mentioned previously, claimants may claim damages related to economic losses related to the decedent’s passing and non-economic losses. In many wrongful death lawsuits, non-economic damages tend to include the emotional pain and suffering associated with grieving the loss of a family member.
In wrongful death lawsuits, pain and suffering are defined more specifically. For example, the spouse of a decedent may claim loss of consortium and companionship as part of their non-economic damages. Similarly, a decedent’s children could be awarded damages for losing parental guidance. The precise nature of your non-economic damages may depend on your relationship with the decedent. Typically, children will claim somewhat different damages than spouses. However, the statute provides a non-exhaustive list of damages that can be claimed in a wrongful death lawsuit, including loss of companionship, consortium, guidance, protection, care, society, and more.
You are likely going through an extremely difficult time after losing a loved one. Your grief and pain should not go unnoticed by the court. Our Cambridge wrongful death lawyers will help you get compensation for all your damages.
Punitive Damages in Massachusetts Wrongful Death Cases
Punitive damages are different from other damages because they are not designed to compensate the plaintiff but are instead meant to punish the defendant. Rules on punitive damages vary greatly by state, and Massachusetts bars the recovery of punitive damages in all cases except wrongful death.
Even so, punitive damages are not awarded in every wrongful death case. To be awarded punitive damages, you must prove that your loved one’s death was caused by the defendant’s gross negligence or evil conduct. Ordinary negligence is not enough to justify punitive damages.
Gross negligence is required for punitive damages, but a legal definition of the term is hard to pin down. Generally, gross negligence has been accepted to mean negligence that is significantly greater in magnitude than ordinary negligence. The defendant’s negligence should be so great that their behavior is downright shocking.
If you believe your case warrants punitive damages, talk to our Wakefield wrongful death attorneys about your case. Our team can help you get all the compensation you rightly deserve for your loved one’s death.
Caps on Wrongful Death Damages in Massachusetts
Damages in wrongful death lawsuits are known for being high. It is extremely difficult to make up for the loss of a life, especially with money, but it is the only way courts are able to compensate plaintiffs. While damages often run very high in these kinds of cases, certain damages are limited by law. Other damages might be unlimited, and juries may award compensation as they see fit.
Limits on Economic Damages
Economic damages are generally not limited by statutes. However, they are limited by your actual expenses. This means that awards for economic damages may be as high as they need to be to compensate the plaintiff adequately, and there is no statutory ceiling. However, juries cannot award economic damages greater than the actual amount of money lost or spent by the plaintiff because of the wrongful death.
For example, suppose you and your attorney determine that all the economic closes that directly resulted from your loved one’s passing (e.g., medical bills, lost financial support, property damage) amount to $150,000. In that case, you cannot be awarded any more than that for economic damages.
This is sometimes an easy limit to understand, especially when dealing with actual money lost or spent. However, some economic losses are not actual but are hypothetical. For example, wrongful death claims often involve claims for lost income and financial support for surviving spouses. Determining how much income the deceased person would have contributed to their spouse and family had they survived involves a lot of estimating and speculation.
Knowing how much money the deceased person was earning at the time of their death is helpful, but there is no telling what else might have happened that could have affected their income. As such, economic damages tend to be murky, and limits are sometimes flexible.
Limits on Non-Economic Damages
Non-economic damages are inherently subjective, and determining their value is tricky. Non-economic damages (e.g., pain, suffering, loss of consortium) are often unrelated to money. As such, deciding how much compensation to award for non-economic damages requires a lot of argument and discussion.
Since non-economic damages are not related to money, finding a limit on non-economic damages is not easy. In especially severe cases, such as wrongful death claims, non-economic damages might be extremely high, as the pain and suffering involved are often presumed to be great. However, the law in Massachusetts imposes some statutory limits under specific circumstances.
According to Mass. Gen. Laws Ch. 231, § 60H, cases for medical malpractice – which often involve wrongful deaths – have strict caps on non-economic damages. According to the law, a jury will be instructed to award no more than $500,000 for non-economic damages, including pain, suffering, loss of companionship, and other damages.
The above cap on non-economic damages might be waived if the jury finds that the plaintiff suffered substantial or permanent loss or limitation of a bodily function or some significant disfigurement. Since these injuries follow the plaintiff for life, the statutory cap on non-economic damages would deny them just compensation. However, this does not typically apply to wrongful death lawsuits since the malpractice victim is deceased.
There is no cap on non-economic damages in wrongful death claims that do not involve medical malpractice claims against hospitals or doctors (e.g., car accidents, intentional torts, pedestrian accidents). Your damages for pain, suffering, and other similar damages may be as high as the jury deems fit, as long as they are reasonable.
Punitive Damages Caps
Punitive damages are rarely awarded in any state, but Massachusetts imposes very strict limitations on them. While punitive damages might be available in various claims in other jurisdictions, Massachusetts only permits punitive damages where they are authorized specifically by statute. According to Mass. Gen. Laws Ch. 229, § 2, punitive damages may be awarded in wrongful death claims. They are not, however, available in typical personal injury claims.
The statute does not impose a cap on punitive damages, but there is a minimum. If punitive damages are awarded, they must be in an amount not less than $5,000. Since there is no cap, punitive damages might be very high, and some wrongful death cases have seen punitive damage wards for 6 or even 7 figures. However, punitive damages are rarely awarded, even when authorized by statute.
Even though punitive damages are capped by statute, courts might still reduce awards they believe are excessive. Juries determine punitive damages and sometimes make decisions based on emotions rather than logic and reason. For example, a jury might award an astronomical punitive damages award because the defendant is unlikable, unsympathetic, and shows no remorse for their behavior.
While punitive damages might be appropriate here, they should be proportional to the defendant’s behavior. Excessive punitive damages wards might be the jury’s way of lashing out, and courts may adjust the award to be more appropriate.
Call Our Massachusetts Wrongful Death Attorneys
Call the Law Office of John J. Sheehan at (617) 315-6412 to set up a free, private legal consultation about your case with our dedicated and experienced Somerville wrongful death attorneys.