If you have suffered the tragedy of losing a loved one in a car accident, it is important to understand how the law protects you and your family. Under law, in the event of a fatal car accident, the victim’s personal representative and certain family members can seek “pecuniary damages” for the financial consequences of their loved one’s untimely death. These financial consequences can often be substantial; and while no amount of money can ever truly compensate for a family member’s passing, hiring an attorney to assert your legal rights is a critical step on the long path toward moving on.
What are “Pecuniary Damages”?
When a fatal car accident is someone else’s fault (or even partially someone else’s fault), the victim’s family can file a wrongful death claim to recover pecuniary and non-pecuniary damages. Pecuniary damages are losses that are financial in nature, while non-pecuniary damages provide compensation for the traumatic and emotional consequences of coping with a loved one’s wrongful death.
In , wrongful death claims are governed by statute. ‘s wrongful death law statutes:
Damages may be awarded as follows:
(1) Each survivor may recover the value of lost support and services . . . with interest, and future loss of support and services . . . .
(2) The surviving spouse may also recover for loss of the decedent’s companionship and protection and for mental pain and suffering from the date of injury.
(3) Minor children of the decedent, and all children of the decedent if there is no surviving spouse, may also recover for lost parental companionship, instruction, and guidance and for mental pain and suffering . . . .
(4) Each parent of a deceased minor child may also recover for mental pain and suffering from the date of injury. Each parent of an adult child may also recover for mental pain and suffering if there are no other survivors.
(5) Medical or funeral expenses due to the decedent’s injury or death may be recovered by a survivor who has paid them.
(6) The decedent’s personal representative may recover for the decedent’s estate the following:
(a) Loss of earnings of the deceased from the date of injury to the date of death. . . with interest. Loss of the prospective net accumulations . . . may also be recovered [by certain family members]
(b) Medical or funeral expenses due to the decedent’s injury or death that have become a charge against her or his estate or that were paid by or on behalf of decedent . . . .
Each item that we have highlighted in bold is a form of pecuniary damages. The other losses identified in ‘s wrongful death statute would be considered non-pecuniary damages.
Calculating Pecuniary Damages after a Fatal Car Accident in
As you can see, most categories of damages in a wrongful death case fall into the “non-pecuniary” category. However, this does not mean that pecuniary damages are insubstantial. In fact, depending upon the circumstances involved, a family’s pecuniary damages for a fatal car accident can easily climb into the six, or even seven figures.
1. Medical Expenses Due to Injury
After a fatal car accident, the surviving family members can recover any and all medical expenses incurred for treatment of their loved one’s injuries prior to death. This includes expenses for emergency transportation, diagnostic hospital services, attempts at life-saving surgery, and all other medical costs incurred. If you have paid your loved one’s medical expenses directly, you can seek to recoup these payments personally. If your loved one’s medical expenses have been paid (or will be paid) out of his or her estate, your loved one’s personal representative will need to recover these expenses on the estate’s behalf.
2. Funeral Expenses
The same rules that apply to medical expenses apply to funeral expenses as well. Family members who pay for funeral and burial costs out-of-pocket can file compensation claims individually; or the personal representative can include these costs in the claim filed on behalf of the estate.
3. Loss of Earnings
If your loved one was in the hospital for a period of time before succumbing to his or her injuries, the estate is entitled to recover the earnings he or she would have earned under normal circumstances. This includes wages, salary, other earnings, and benefits.
4. Loss of Prospective Net Accumulations
In a wrongful death case, “prospective net accumulations” refers to the income your loved one would have earned over the course of his or her lifetime, minus the expenses he or she would have incurred. Calculating prospective net accumulations can be a complicated process, but it is also hugely important to providing for surviving family members’ long-term financial needs.
Who Receives Pecuniary Damages That Are Awarded to the Estate?
When pecuniary damages are awarded to a car accident victim’s estate, these damages will ultimately be distributed according to ‘s probate laws and the victim’s estate plan. Typically, qualifying creditors will have a certain amount of time to seek payment, and then any damages remaining in the estate will be distributed according to the victim’s final wishes. If the deceased did not leave an estate plan, then the pecuniary damages awarded to the estate will be distributed according to law. Usually (though not always), this means that they will be awarded to the deceased’s spouse, parents or children.
Dealing with a loved one’s untimely death is not easy, and it is not something that you should try to do on your own. For more information your family’s legal rights after a fatal car accident, you can our Palm Beach County law offices for a free, no-obligation consultation. Our attorneys and professional are dedicated to helping families cope with tragedy, and we can help ensure that your family receives the financial compensation to which it is entitled under law.
Speak with a Palm Beach County Wrongful Death Lawyer in Confidence
At Brian D. Guralnick Injury Lawyers, we have been helping accident victims and their families for 20 years. If you have lost a loved one in a car accident, I invite you to call me, attorney Brian D. Guralnick, personally for a free consultation. To learn more your family’s legal rights and find out how we can help you Demand More® for your family’s losses, please call 561.202.MORE(6673) or me online today.
Disclaimer: The information in this blog is not intended, and must not be taken, as legal advice on any particular set of facts or circumstances. If you need advice on specific legal issues, please consult with a licensed Personal Injury attorney.