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How Are Wrongful Death Settlements Calculated?

The sudden and unexpected loss of a loved one is devastating. Along with confusion, stress, and heartache, the burden of financial costs related to a funeral, medical expenses, and lost wages can feel completely overwhelming. 

While nothing can ever replace the pain you experience from losing your loved one, a wrongful death settlement may help ease some of the financial burden so that you can focus on your grieving. If your loved one died in an accident due to no fault of their own, a wrongful death lawyer can help you fight for compensation  for the harms and losses — both tangible and otherwise — associated with the preventable death of your family member. 

What Is a Wrongful Death Settlement?

“Wrongful death” is a legal term for any death caused by the negligent or intentionally harmful actions of another person or entity. When a wrongful death is suspected, you may be able to file for a wrongful death settlement, which can help to reimburse or compensate you for the financial losses you experienced as a result of your loved one’s death, such as medical expenses, funeral costs, lost earnings and future wages, and lost inheritance. These losses can also be non-economic, such as loss of companionship and pain and suffering.

When Does a Settlement Happen vs. a Verdict?

Many wrongful death cases are settled before a full trial occurs. Once the claim is filed, the parties involved will generally attempt in good faith to work towards a resolution of the claim through a settlement.  The wrongful death claim will end here if both parties agree to settle. However, if the defendant denies liability, or if the parties are unable to agree on a settlement value of the claim (sometimes after extensive litigation) the claim will proceed to the trial stage, where a judge and jury will oversee the case.

There are a couple of situations in which going to trial is the best decision. The first is when the party responsible for causing the death refuses to offer a settlement that fully compensates the claimant. Determining a settlement amount can be complicated and require extensive investigation and negotiation. Without the help of a wrongful death lawyer, you may be encouraged to take a settlement offer from the other party’s insurance company so you can move on from your tragedy. However, insurance companies are well known for making deliberately low offers. A wrongful death lawyer near you can manage the process so that you have a much better shot at a fair and comprehensive settlement. 

Another situation that may cause a case to go to trial is if the defendant’s insurer won’t acknowledge the full extent of their  liability. In this case, going to trial allows a judge and jury to decide if the losses of the wrongful death should be compensated. However, taking a case to court can be expensive, and it often takes longer than cases that reach a satisfactory settlement outside of court. Whether a wrongful death case should ultimately go to trial depends on many factors that should be thoroughly discussed with your attorney.

How Is a Settlement Amount Reached?

Typically, a wrongful death claim is negotiated directly with the defendant’s insurance company. If a settlement can be reached, the case usually ends at that time, though sometimes the number of parties involved in the case can mean different negotiations with different insurers throughout the process. However, if a case goes to trial, the amount of compensation owed will be determined by a judge and jury in a courtroom. Usually, once a verdict is reached and a judgment is entered, a wrongful death settlement can then be reached through further negotiations. 

In a wrongful death claim, liability is what determines who is responsible for covering the costs of losses — whether it was a single individual, an entity, or both. The specific circumstances of the case will determine who may pay for damages related to the death of your loved one. However,  an insurance company will most likely make the payment if their liability is clear.

In some cases, though, you may be entitled to compensation from both an insurance company and the individual or entity responsible for your loved one’s death. If the defendant did not have enough liability insurance coverage to fairly compensate you and other members of your family for your losses, they may be held personally responsible for the difference. However, it may be difficult to collect the money if the person does not have substantial assets or a high salary that can be garnished.

How Is a Settlement Amount Calculated?

The loss of a loved one is an unthinkable tragedy that can never be quantified monetarily. Recovery in these legal cases generally involves economic and emotional distress damages caused to close family members by the wrongful death.

Because each case is unique, the recovery amount in a wrongful death claim will vary depending on the circumstances. A variety of factors will be considered to help reach a fair wrongful death settlement amount, including:

  • The nature of the victim’s death
  • Who is determined to be at fault for the accident
  • Applicable insurance policy limits
  • The age of the victim
  • The victim’s earning capacity
  • The victim’s state of health
  • The victim’s income at the time of death
  • The age and circumstances of the victim’s dependents
  • The victim’s training and education
  • Medical bills and other expenses related to the death
  • Funeral expenses
  • Value of benefits lost (for example: health insurance or pension)

Some types of damages are losses that don’t have a clear and provable monetary value but are still grounds for recovery. These non-economic losses include things like:

  • The emotional pain and suffering the loved one’s death caused
  • The family’s loss of love, companionship, care, and comfort
  • The decedent’s pain and suffering before death

A “survival claim” also can be made for damages the victim could have claimed for personal injury had they remained alive. This may help compensate for the financial burdens related to the death and seeks to hold the negligent party accountable for their actions. 

How Can a Lawyer Help with Filing a Wrongful Death Suit?

When you’re grieving the death of a loved one, dealing with your loss is overwhelming enough. In such a state, worrying about the legal work of a wrongful death case may seem an impossible task. 

That’s where a wrongful death lawyer can help to ease your burden, offering financial guidance and legal counsel throughout each step of the process. An experienced legal team deals with the paperwork, the at-fault parties, and the insurance companies so that you can focus on your grieving instead. They will work tirelessly to build a strong case on your behalf, in order to obtain the full measure of justice for your loved one.

Wrongful Death Lawyers You Can Count On

At FVF, our clients are so much more than their cases. We’re here to offer legal counsel and support you need during one of the most trying times of your life. Our experienced attorneys have handled hundreds of wrongful death settlements, and we are confident we can help you get a fair settlement. For a no-cost, no-pressure consultation with a wrongful death lawyer in Austin, contact us today.

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Fogelman & Von Flatern is a personal injury law firm that believes it matters why we practice law: to make sure good people in unfair circumstances who want reasonable options are taken seriously, especially by their attorney. We value transparency, compassion, and justice, and we strive to embody that in our practice. At FVF, you can trust that you've got the best people on your case, for the right reasons.

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