People who have lost a family member in a car accident may have questions about the damages they may be able to gain in a civil wrongful death lawsuit. Of course, putting a price on a human life is truly impossible, but California's wrongful death laws try to encompass the many ways in which a deceased loved one contributed and provided various services for their family.
Assigning a dollar amount to the value of a person's contributions is certainly an inexact science, but the purpose of the law is try to reasonably estimate and compensate loved ones and family members for their immense loss. The court looks at economic damages, which include the deceased's earnings, financial contributions and the value of the work they did for the family. The most basic way to determine these damages is to look at the person's annual earnings at the time of their death or as averaged over several preceding years and calculate their estimated lifetime earnings. The same goes for their contributions to the household, which is considered another form of economic loss.
In addition to economic losses, the plaintiff in a wrongful death suit may be entitled to noneconomic damages. This includes the intangible things that a person provides for others, such as companionship, emotional support, physical companionship and even the value of raising a child or providing guidance and teaching.
The California civil jury instructions tell the jurors to use their judgment to determine a reasonable amount of compensation for these noneconomic damages. Of course, every person's idea of what constitutes reasonable can be different, so wrongful death damages can really fluctuate from case to case depending on the facts, the evidence, the work of the attorneys and the decision of the jury.
Source: Judicial Council of California, "California Civil Jury Instructions," accessed Feb. 15, 2015