Wrongful Death Claims

Under Minnesota law, wrongful death settlements require court involvement. In these matters, the trial court must appoint a trustee to represent the interests of the heirs and next of kin and approve the distribution of settlement funds.

When death is caused by the wrongful act or omission of any person or entity, the appointed trustee may maintain an action against the wrongdoer if the decedent might have maintained an action, had the decedent lived, for an injury caused by the wrongful act or omission. An action to recover damages may arise from a death caused by such things as a drunk driver, professional negligence of a medical practitioner or facility, or intentional acts such as murder.

Measuring Pecuniary Damages

In considering damages for the spouse or next of kin, it must be determined what amount of money will fairly compensate this person for the monetary loss arising from the death of the decedent. This is called the pecuniary loss.

In determining pecuniary loss, the jury should consider what money and services of a monetary value the decedent would have furnished to the person if he or she had lived. The following are possible factors to bear in mind:

1. The decedent's contributions in the past;

2. The decedent's life expectancy at the time of death;

3. The decedent's health, age, habits, talents, and success;

4. The decedent's likely future earning, and prospects of bettering him or herself had the person lived;

5. The decedent's personal living expenses, including the cost of supporting a child;

6. The decedent's legal obligation to support the surviving spouse or next of kin, and likelihood of decedent fulfilling that obligation;

7. All reasonable expenses incurred for a funeral, burial or other disposition, and all reasonable expenses for support of the decedent because of decedent's last sickness, including necessary medical and hospital expenses incurred after and as a result of the injuries causing decedent's death;

8. The probability of decedent paying any debts owed;

9. The counsel, guidance, and aid decedent would have given the surviving spouse or next of kin;

10. The advice, comfort, assistance, and protection the decedent would have given had he or she lived.

Punitive Damages

Punitive damages are separate and different from pecuniary damages. Punitive damages serve to punish and deter the wrongdoer and also to deter others from engaging in similar conduct.

Typically, the award of punitive damages rests in the discretion of the jury, and is not a matter of right. The jury will likely consider the degree of culpability of the wrongdoer and the nature and reprehensibility of the complained acts. The court will generally only intervene if the award set by the jury is grossly excessive or is the result of passion or prejudice. To determine whether this is the case, the court considers the nature and consequence of the complained of acts, the financial status or condition of the wrongdoer, the amount of pecuniary damages awarded, the amount awarded in similar cases, the amount of criminal fine or penalty applicable for a similar act, and any statutory limitations.

Summary

There is no exact standard by which damages can be measured in a wrongful death case since, by nature, personal injuries are not susceptible to a precise monetary measure. Because the purpose of assessing damages is to attempt to compensate the surviving spouse or next of kin harmed by the negligence or intentional actions of another, the law does not impose hard and fast rules to be used blindly in figuring the damage award in every wrongful death case. It is impossible to equate money with the loss suffered, thus no precise rules can be stated. This is why discretion is left to the jury, who are supervised by the court.

Statutes of Limitations

There are statutes of limitations that apply to a wrongful death case. If the necessary action is not taken within the specified time period, you may be barred from obtaining a recovery if time has passed since your spouse or next of kin has passed away. If you have any reason to believe that you may have a claim under wrongful death, you should contact an attorney immediately.

The purpose of this information is to briefly acquaint the reader with wrongful death compensation.

Consult legal counsel to determine the applicability of the information in this website to your circumstances. The information contained in this website is not intended to provide legal advice to you and you should not rely on this information other than to obtain a general understanding of the concepts and terms discussed.