Calculating Damages in Wrongful Death Lawsuits

By February 16, 2015Wrongful Death

legal form for filing for punitive monetary damages
How much is a life worth? Though this question seems impossible to answer, courts must answer it every day when deciding damages for wrongful death claims. Understandably, the answer is often complicated. In addition, the calculation of damages can be a painful and stressful process for the survivors who have filed the suit. If you or someone you know is filing a wrongful death suit, it’s important to completely understand how this process works. If the jury rules in your favor, it will then start working on the damages.

Valuation by Human Capital

Valuation by human capital, also called the pecuniary rule, is the traditional way that American courts have calculated compensation in wrongful death suits. The simplest way to understand valuation by human capital is that it is calculated by measuring how much the victim was earning and then estimating how much they would earn in the future. This total loss of earnings would then be the compensation given to the family. According to, when a court actually starts calculating this amount it incorporates a variety of factors including:

• The Age of the Victim and How Much Longer He Was Expected to Live
• His Income When He Died
• How Much Future Earnings He Probably Would Have Earned
• How Old His Dependents Were and How Much Money They Would Have Likely Received
• Medical Bills and Funeral Expenses
• The Value of Lost Benefits Like Pensions and Health Insurance
• Loss of Inheritance
• Value of Goods and Services that the Victim Would Have Provided

Courts prefer the pecuniary rule because it is relatively easy to calculate and has a degree of objectivity. However, it is still nothing more than an estimate. There is no way for a court to truly know how much longer a victim would live or how much he would have earned. According to Cornell Law, the pecuniary law is also criticized because it values the lives of high-earning victims more than it does low-earning victims. Individuals who typically earn less, such as women and minorities, are also disadvantaged by the system, and finally, the rule has no way to determine compensation for the death of a child or a retired person.

All that being said, valuation by human capital is still the only calculation model accepted by most courts. If you have lost a loved one and are filing a wrongful death suit, it is mostly likely that damages will be calculated this way. Even if you bring in economists or others to propose a different method, the judge may disregard that and follow this model instead.

Wrongful deaths are unfortunate tragedies. Though we hope you or someone you know never finds yourself in this situation, we are here to provide legal assistance if the unthinkable happens. No amount of money awards can ever bring back your loved one, but our attorneys will do everything we can to help get you justice. If you are considering a wrongful death lawsuit, please contact Bighorn Law today. Our attorneys will help you get the justice that you and your family deserve.

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