A child's death is an incredibly tragic event—not only for the parents and surviving family members but for the entire community. Grief and sorrow can quickly give way to anger and a need for retribution when this death results not from an accident or unforeseeable event but from another person's (or entity's) negligent or reckless actions.
Often, situations that would give rise to a personal injury claim if the claimant had lived can be ripe for a wrongful death claim if the negligent actions result in death. But while adult wrongful death claimants can seek lost wages, loss of companionship, medical and funeral costs, and other calculable financial damages, the types of damages available when a child's life prematurely ends can be more amorphous. Read on to learn more about the potential damages that are available in a child wrongful death claim.
As the name implies, these damages are designed to compensate the claimant (generally the parents or other close family members) for the costs associated with their child's death. These compensatory damages can include both actual expenses like medical and funeral costs as well as general "loss of companionship" damages.
Although children are not a source of income or non-financial support for a family like a breadwinner or a stay-at-home spouse, the loss of a child can be just as harrowing as the loss of a supportive adult. As a result, it is usually compensated accordingly—but instead of calculating "lost lifetime wages," attorneys will calculate "loss of lifetime companionship." Pain and suffering damages may also be available, especially if the fatal injury was sufficiently severe to cause the child to linger before death.
There are also other compensatory damages that may not immediately come to mind. For example, parents or surviving children may require intensive counseling or therapy to cope with the loss; a wrongful death settlement or judgment will help cover these costs. If there are tax costs associated with liquidating a child's college savings account or another tax-advantaged account, these costs may be covered.
In many wrongful death claims, punitive damages are available along with compensatory damages. But unlike compensatory damages, which must bear some relationship to the financial cost of the claimant's loss, punitive damages are designed only to punish the defendant and deter similar conduct in the future. Although some states place a cap on punitive damages (usually limited to a multiplier of the compensatory damages awarded), in other states, there is no limit.
Generally speaking, in order for punitive damages to be awarded, the defendant's conduct must be especially egregious—simple negligence isn't enough. So for example, someone who failed to yield at a stop sign will be responsible for compensatory damages but likely not punitive damages; someone who purposely battered a child or who refused to seek medical attention that could have saved the child's life may be assessed compensatory and punitive damages. If you have found yourself in this situation, seek out a wrongful death accident attorney for assistance.