How are Damages Determined in a Wrongful Death Case in Massachusetts?
Unintentional injury deaths are the third leading cause of death in the United States. Over 150,000 Americans die each year as a result of an unintentional injury caused by or due to the fault of someone else; approximately 40,000 of which are attributable to motor vehicle traffic deaths. Many of these incidents are not merely accidental; rather, they were caused by a driver who purposefully engaged in one or more reckless behaviors, such as:
- Distracted driving
- Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs
- Phone use or texting
- Applying makeup
- Disregarding traffic signs or warnings
- Failure to stop or running a red light
- Reckless driving (such as changing lanes too quickly or driving aggressively)
- Driving without having sufficient sleep
- Wrong-way driving
- Failure to yield
Under Massachusetts law, if a family member dies as a result of someone else’s negligence or wrongdoing, the surviving members of the victim’s family can sue the responsible person under a legal claim for “wrongful death.” If successful, the estate of the victim may be awarded monetary damages to help cover expenses and losses, such as medical bills, burial costs, and lost wages. Additionally, certain family members may be entitled to compensation for loss of companionship or loss of consortium.
Wrongful death claims can be complex. Certain types of damages (such as lost wages, loss of consortium, or loss of companionship) may be difficult to determine, often requiring the assistance of experts and economists to monetarily quantify. Frequently, survivors are unaware of their rights and the damages that they may be entitled to; consequently, they never seek compensation for their losses.
At the Law Office of Paul M. King, P.C., I believe that every wrongful death victim should receive the compensation that they rightfully deserve. Below is an explanation of how damages are often calculated, and the common types of evidence ordinarily utilized to prove economic loss.
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If you lost a loved one due to the fault of someone else, please accept my sincerest condolences for your loss. As an injury lawyer for almost two decades, I understand the psychological, emotional, and financial challenges that many survivors experience after sustaining the loss of a loved one.
While we know that no amount of money can make up for the loss of a family member, holding those responsible accountable and obtaining financial compensation can bring relief. As an experienced Massachusetts wrongful death car accident attorney, I provide a free consultation and case evaluation, and will work tenaciously if retained to seek the full compensation that you and your family rightfully deserve.
What Types of Damages are Awarded in Wrongful Death Lawsuits?
Under Massachusetts’ wrongful death statute, the surviving family members of wrongful death victims may be able to collect both economic and noneconomic damages.
What are Economic Damages?
Economic damages are those expenses that are based upon a concrete monetary amount.
Some types of economic expenses can be easily and definitively calculated, such as expenses that have been incurred from medical bills, funeral and burial expenses, and property damage. Other types of economic expenses – such as lost wages – are much more difficult to calculate. Lost wages, for instance, must take into account a number of factors, such as the current wages of the deceased, whether the deceased would have been promoted or otherwise have experienced an increase in earnings, and many other factors. While these calculations require a number of assumptions, nonetheless the actual determination of lost wages is meant to compensate a family for an actual dollar amount that they otherwise would have received.
As a practical rule, if you have a bill for an expense, or if you must pay some amount as the result of a crash or other injury, these items will be considered an economic damage.
Noneconomic damages are intangible and cannot be easily translated into monetary values. As a result, they are often difficult to calculate.
Non-economic damages include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Pain and Suffering. These damages are the emotional and physical consequences that result from losing a loved one (e.g., insomnia, anxiety, depression, loss of appetite, lack of energy, sadness, loss of enjoyment of life, post-traumatic stress syndrome, mood swings, social withdrawal, etc.).
- Loss of Consortium or companionship. These damages are intended to compensate for the loss of companionship, guidance, comfort, affection, or love. Loss of consortium usually refers to the relationship between spouses, while companionship can refer to the loss suffered by children who lose a parent.
Punitive damages are meant to punish a negligent party in order to deter other individuals from engaging in behavior that causes wrongful deaths in some types of cases. However, these types of damages are only awarded if the decedent’s death was caused by the malicious, willful, wanton, reckless or grossly negligent conduct of the defendant. In Massachusetts, the minimum award for punitive damages is $5,000.
Depending on the circumstances, Massachusetts may limit the maximum amount of compensation that can be recovered. For example, economic damages in medical malpractice cases are capped at $500,000. I can help you assess whether a statutory cap may limit the amount of damages you can collect.
How Are Damages Proven in a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?
It can be extremely challenging to put a monetary value on a human life; however, the practical reality of wrongful death cases requires a jury to determine a value, in terms of dollars and cents, if a case goes to trial. As such, the amount of recovery for a wrongful death involves balancing many factors and often varies depending on the circumstances surrounding the incident. Many factors can affect the amount of a settlement or the damages awarded in a lawsuit, including:
- The victim’s age
- The victim’s physical health
- The deceased’s income at the time of death
- Value of lost benefits (pension, 401K, health insurance)
- Future earnings potential
- The age and circumstances of the decedent’s dependents
- The nature of the accident or injury that caused the death
- Whether the victim incurred significant medical bills
- If, and to what extent, the victim suffered before eventually dying
In a wrongful death lawsuit, in addition to proving liability, the damages must not be an estimate; rather, they must be supported by evidence. A skilled attorney and expert witnesses can evaluate these factors and determine the amount of compensation that should be awarded.
How are Lost Wages and Future Earnings Determined in a Wrongful Death Case?
Under Massachusetts law, the family of a wrongful death victim is entitled to collect compensation for the lost wages and future earnings of the decedent. Lost income can be broken down into three categories:
- Category 1: Lost wages from the time of the incident to the time the deceased passed
- Category 2: Lost income for the working years that the decedent had left
- Category 3: Lost earnings during retirement years
Category one earnings are usually relatively easy to prove with W-2 forms and recent paystubs. If your loved one earned tips, commissions or was self-employed resulting in fluctuating income each pay period, an average of several paystubs can be utilized.
For category two, the deceased victim’s income at the time of death will be multiplied by the number of working years they had left prior to retirement, taking into account reasonable raises, bonuses, and other matters. Calculating prospective bonuses and raises requires consulting with financial or occupational experts who can forecast the likely future earnings that would have been earned by the decedent. Because there are many critical assumptions that are used in these calculations, the assumptions and calculations by the plaintiff’s experts are usually strenuously challenged by the defense.
Category three considers the income that the victim would have received during their retirement years. A life expectancy table and social security income figures are often utilized to determine these damages.
How Do I Calculate Loss of Consortium and Companionship in a Wrongful Death Case?
Unlike some economic losses that can easily be calculated by referencing a bill or bank statement, loss of consortium and companionship are difficult to determine because of their intangibility.
In a wrongful death lawsuit, juries are often tasked with determining the value that will be placed on these types of losses. As a result, damages can fluctuate based on the emotions or impressions of the jury members, making it of utmost importance to present a case that emotionally appeals to them and stresses the grave losses suffered.
As an example, juries tend to highly favor younger children who were deprived of the loss of a parent, as they know that the loss of a parent during the formative years of children can be devastating. As an experienced trial lawyer, I can vividly convey to a jury the intangible benefits that your loved one provided to you, prior to their untimely death, such as providing evidence concerning matters such as:
- The nature of daily conversations
- Spousal intimacy
- Marital Stability
- The amount of care and companionship the decedent provided
- Family living arrangements
- The nature of the decedent’s relationship with their children
- Family goals
- Whether the deceased was a caregiver
- Tasks performed by the deceased on a regular basis
Are Wrongful Death Lawsuit Awards Taxable?
Wrongful death claims typically include compensatory damages for mental and physical injuries, as well as punitive damages; consequently, both may result in insurance settlements or awards at trial. Generally, according to the Internal Revenue Service, any amounts that are compensatory for personal physical injuries are non-taxable under IRC § 104(a)(2). However, because punitive damages are meant to act as punishment and do not compensate for incurred expenses or losses, they are typically considered taxable income. Please note – there are many conditions and circumstances that may affect the taxation of any judgments; I do not provide tax advice so you should speak with a tax lawyer or a CPA to determine your tax consequences if you receive proceeds from a wrongful death case.
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I have helped clients secure significant compensation in injury and other matters. My commitment extends to working tenaciously to secure the maximum compensation for each and every client.
I accept injury and wrongful death cases on a contingency fee basis, meaning that I will only receive a fee if compensation is recovered. I also provide a free consultation so that you can learn about your options, and I advance the costs of litigation. Additionally, I do not charge for consultations.
Call me today to schedule a complimentary consultation to learn more about the damages to which you and your family may be due.
 National Center for Health Statistics, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/accidental-injury.htm.
 National Center for Health S National Center for Health Statistics, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/accidental-injury.htm.
 Mass. Gen. Laws Ann. Ch. 229 § 2.
 Mass. Gen. Laws Ann. Ch. 231 §60H.