The tragic news about a recent auto accident brings to mind the remedies a surviving family might have as a result of an auto accident resulting in death.
Since the accident involves an auto, the first benefits available would be those afforded by the No-Fault insurance carrier of the car in which the injured party (decedent) was traveling in. No-Fault will provide for the payment of medical expenses related to the accident as well a modest funeral death benefit.
The more important claim that the surviving family would have is a wrongful death claim and a potential pain & suffering claim--both of which are very distinct and different.
A pain & suffering claim, as the term indicates, relates to the physical injuries the decedent suffered and conscious pain & suffering that was experienced until death. Depending on the accident and circumstances, this conscious pain and suffering could be for just a few minutes to days and weeks. The measure of compensation for this claim is generally left to the discretion of a jury who would determine what was fair and adequate compensation for the injury.
Depending on the circumstances, these claims could be modest or substantial. A victim who experienced pain and suffering, even for a short period of time, due to burn injuries for example, might be awarded substantial compensation. If a victim lacked consciousness so that the pain and suffering were not appreciated, the compensation could be limited despite the severity of the injury.
Wrongful death claims are very different and totally separate and apart from pain & suffering claims. These claims are intended to compensate surviving family members for their "pecuniary injuries."
What is "pecuniary injury?" These are economic losses suffered by the surviving family as a consequence of the victim's death. What was the earnings capacity of the victim? What was the annual income? What level of financial support did the survivors expect from the decedent? A surviving spouse's expectation of financial support from a husband or a wife is very different than what adult children might expect from a parent. The amount of income lost is a key factor in such awards; generally speaking, a decedent earning $100K+ would result in a higher award than a decedent earning $25K. The life expectancy of the decedent, the surviving spouse and the age of children are all important factors. Also important are the class of surviving family members--if the only survivors are adult children, an award for pecuniary injury could be expected to be less as compared to a surviving family that includes a young spouse and young children.
While pecuiary injury primarily focuses on economic issues, the loss that children suffer when their parents pass away is also a critical element in establishing damages--what did a child lose in terms of the "intellectual, moral, and physical training, guidance and assistance" that a parent would have given to his/her children had the parent lived?
Wrongful death claims are often challenging--besides the serious economic losses that a family may suffer--it's necessary to address all of the physical and emotional changes that take place when a family member passes away as a result of an accident.
If you have any questions or want more information about this important subject, contact us and we'll be happy to help.