What Is the Average Wrongful Death Settlement?
Gregg Hollander | May 6, 2023 | Wrongful death
Strictly speaking, there is no such thing as a meaningful “average wrongful death settlement.” The amount you end up with depends heavily on the facts surrounding your claim. It is likely, however, that as long as you win your claim, the amount of your compensation will probably be substantial.
The best way to estimate the amount of your wrongful death settlement is to plug the facts of your case into the components listed below. Better yet, schedule an initial consultation with an experienced personal injury lawyer and have them estimate the value of your claim.
What Is a Wrongful Death Claim?
A wrongful death claim is similar to a personal injury claim. A wrongful death claim arises when someone suffers a fatal injury for which someone else is legally responsible. Typically, the defendant is legally responsible for the death because they committed misconduct. “Misconduct” means they did something they should not have done or they failed to do something they should have done.
Examples of misconduct include:
- A driver causes a fatal traffic accident by running a red light;
- A doctor accidentally kills a patient by failing to diagnose a terminal illness in time despite the obvious indicators; or
- A criminal intentionally kills a victim during a robbery.
Many other types of conduct can trigger a wrongful death claim. Florida’s wrongful death statute governs wrongful death claims that arise in Florida. Other states apply their own wrongful death statutes.
Types of Compensation in a Wrongful Death Settlement
Florida offers the following types of wrongful death compensation:
- Loss of services and financial support;
- Loss of protection;
- Loss of companionship;
- Loss of instruction and guidance (for the victim’s children);
- Emotional pain and suffering; and
- Reimbursement for funeral and burial expenses that a family member paid.
In addition, a court might award certain compensation to the deceased victim’s probate estate, including amounts for:
- Lost wages and benefits from the date of the victim’s accident until the date of their death;
- The amount that the victim would likely have saved (and passed on to their estate beneficiaries) if they had lived out a normal lifespan;
- Medical expenses paid by the victim’s estate; and
- Funeral and burial expenses paid by the estate.
Amounts that the victim’s estate recovers go to estate beneficiaries.
You can receive punitive damages in an out-of-court settlement if you can prove that a judge will probably award them to you if your case goes to court. It’s a hard sell, however. The feasibility of a punitive damages claim during settlement negotiations depends on Florida punitive damages law, as outlined below.
How Punitive Damages Work in Court
Florida courts award punitive damages when the defendant’s conduct is so outrageous that the court wishes to punish the defendant instead of merely compensating the victim. Florida awards punitive damages in addition to, not in place of, ordinary wrongful death damages.
In a typical wrongful death case, the court will not award any punitive damages; the threshold is very high. In relatively unusual cases when courts do award punitive damages, there is a limit.
Florida limits the amount of punitive damages to three times the total amount of compensatory damages (as listed above) or $500,000, whichever is greater. There are ways around this limitation under certain circumstances.
Deductions and Limitations
Many legal and practical limitations limit the amount that you are likely to actually receive in a wrongful death settlement or verdict. Some of these limitations appear below.
Courts split wrongful death damages among eligible recipients (surviving relatives and the victim’s probate estate) on the basis of fundamental fairness. You will probably share any wrongful death compensation with others. Surviving spouses typically receive the most.
Workers’ Compensation Claims
If the injury that killed the victim was work-related, Florida law might require you to file a workers’ compensation claim rather than a wrongful death lawsuit. This requirement greatly limits the amount of available compensation.
Florida workers’ compensation offers death benefits kick in if the death occurs within one year of the accident that caused it or within five years of a continuous occupational disability that caused it. Compensation is limited to $150,000 plus $7,500 for funeral and burial expenses.
You can escape the workers’ compensation system and file an ordinary wrongful death lawsuit if gross negligence or intentional misconduct attributable to the employer caused the death.
If the victim acted negligently and thereby partially caused the accident, Florida will apply comparative negligence principles. Under these principles, a court will assign the victim a percentage of fault and then deduct that percentage from available compensation.
If the victim was 10% at fault, for example, the court will deduct 10% from wrongful death compensation. If the victim was more than 50% at fault, however, the court will pay no compensation at all. Typically, negotiating parties settle for an amount that is proportional to whatever they think a court will award.
Insurance Coverage Limits
Insurance policies pay many wrongful death claims. To the extent that you are relying on an insurance policy, remember this much: no insurance company is obligated to pay a dime more than its stated policy limits. This limitation tends to matter a lot in traffic accidents, for example.
Poor Negotiating Skill
Most wrongful death claims resolve at the settlement table rather than in court. If you are negotiating your claim, particularly if your opponent is an insurance adjuster, any lack of negotiating skill on your part could cost you a lot of money.
Most personal injury lawyers work on a contingency fee basis, which means you only pay legal fees if you win. The amount is typically 33% to 40% of the total value of your claim. If you select a good lawyer, however, you will likely end up with more than you otherwise would have – even after you pay your legal fees.
It sometimes costs a lot of money to pursue a wrongful death claim. This is particularly likely if the case is scientifically complex, as in defective product claims and medical malpractice claims.
For example, using expert witnesses (even during negotiations) is typical in medical malpractice claims. Investigation expenses can add up as well. If you hire a lawyer, they will probably pay these expenses up front and deduct them from your eventual compensation.
Lawyers Aren’t Just for Court
Most people prefer to settle their personal injury claims out of court. But a lawyer isn’t just for cross-examining witnesses and arguing in front of a jury. Experienced personal injury lawyers are skilled negotiators and strategists who can help you hammer out a settlement. Best of all, most of them will schedule a free initial case consultation if you ask for one.
Contact Our Wrongful Death Law Firm in South Florida
If you’ve been injured in an accident, please contact our experienced personal injury lawyers in Florida at Hollander Law Firm Accident Injury Lawyers to schedule a free consultation today. We have three convenient locations in Boca Raton, Fort Lauderdale, and West Palm Beach.
We proudly serve Palm Beach County, Broward County, and its surrounding areas:
Hollander Law Firm Accident Injury Lawyers – Boca Raton Law Office
7000 W Palmetto Park Rd #500
Boca Raton, FL 33433
Hollander Law Firm Accident Injury Lawyers – Fort Lauderdale Law Office
200 S.E. 6th Street #203
Fort Lauderdale, FL 33301
Hollander Law Firm Accident Injury Lawyers – West Palm Beach Law Office
319 Clematis St #203
West Palm Beach, FL 33401