Calculating Wrongful Death Claims

What is the death of a child worth?


What is the Death of a Child Worth?

I’m Ed Smith, a Sacramento Wrongful Death Lawyer. In calculating wrongful death claims, there is the potential to reduce the deceased to a number: how much he or she is “worth,” expressed as a dollar figure. This often takes into consideration factors that are sometimes difficult to quantify such as the value of the decedent’s company and companionship, the value of his or her guidance in the household, and the value of any protection the decedent would have provided to the surviving family. In such a calculation, children fall short: while children are certainly missed by their parents, children who die in wrongful death accidents may not have:

• Any wages or income they would have contributed to the household;
• Any guidance or protection they could have provided to the family;
• Anything more than the smiles they could give to parents or “I love you’s” they could utter to their family members.

This has led some legal professionals to cynically conclude that, in wrongful death lawsuits, children are simply not worth as much compensation to the surviving family members as are adults. But this conclusion (aside from being incredibly hurtful to surviving family members) ignores the fact that, with some amount of preparation and strategy on the part of the attorney, surviving parents of a deceased child may be able to obtain fair compensation for the loss of their child.


Damages Surviving Family Members May Receive in a Wrongful Death of a Child Case

When a child is killed because of the negligent or careless actions of another, the child’s parents are able to seek economic damages and non-economic damages from the individual or entity responsible for the child’s death. Economic damages include items like burial expenses and funeral costs, whereas non-economic damages are meant to compensate the parents for the loss of the child’s companionship and presence in their lives. Whereas economic damages are rather certain and fixed – a funeral home’s bill is objective evidence of the parents’ expense – non-economic damages are hard to determine. How much compensation is enough for never getting to see your child’s smile again? How much money would you accept in exchange for never hearing your child’s footsteps running through the house? In a wrongful death lawsuit, these non-economic losses are difficult to fix: a court must consider the facts and circumstances of the situation, including the child’s age and the type of relationship the child had with the parents, in setting an appropriate award.

Note that while California courts hold that parents of a deceased child can recover non-economic damages for the loss of the child’s companionship, the comfort that child provided, and whatever protection the child could have provided to the parents, such a damage award will likely be reduced by whatever “gain” there is to the parents for not having to raise the child to adulthood. This appears to be a particularly harsh rule: Suppose that parents’ non-economic losses are found to be $100,000. This will be reduced accordingly if the court concludes that, because of the child’s young age, the parents would save $40,000 by not having to feed, clothe, educate, and otherwise care for the child until he or she turned 18 years of age.

Contact a Sacramento Wrongful Death Lawyer for Help

If a loved one has been killed in an accident because someone else was negligent or reckless, call me for free, friendly advice. I’m Ed Smith, a Sacramento Wrongful Death Lawyer since 1982. Call me anytime at 916-921-6400 in Sacramento or 800-404-5400 Elsewhere.

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Photo Attribution: Wikimedia Commons Public Domain Images  Child_angels_on_a_child’s_grave_-_Oak_Hill_Cemetery_-_2013-09-04