Understanding Wrongful Death Settlements: What You Need To Know

In a wrongful death case, the deceased’s representative or immediate family members may institute a claim against the responsible party. Parties in such lawsuits may enter a settlement agreement to compensate the beneficiaries. Moreover, it is a civil case with a lower burden of proof.

One recent example of a wrongful death case involves the widow of Bobby Barrick. She initiated a wrongful death case against the McCurtain County sheriff and other officials. The complaint alleged the use of excessive force resulting in the death of her husband. The surviving wife is seeking damages of up to $6 million. 

Another incident involves Venus Willians, who reached a settlement after a fatal car crash. The lawsuit alleged the victim suffered massive internal bleeding, fractures, and internal organ damage. However, the court documents did not reveal the settlement amount.

Contact a law firm for representation or legal advice if you lost a loved one due to another’s intentional act or negligence. Your legal counsel can help you receive fair compensation for your losses.

Key Takeaways
  • Several factors may affect a wrongful death settlement. These factors include the at-fault party’s insurance policy, the number of dependents, monetary and intangible losses, and the skills of the legal counsel.
  • The grounds for wrongful death cases may involve intentional tort, negligence, or medical malpractice.
  • The surviving family members may receive a lump sum or structured settlement payment.

Grounds for Wrongful Death Lawsuits

The personal representative or family members can invoke the following grounds for wrongful death cases:

  • Intentional tort
  • Negligence
  • Medical malpractice

Intentional tort

Intentional tort in wrongful death cases refers to situations where the intentional act of the at-fault party caused the death of another. It differs from negligence claims because it involves deliberate acts rather than unintentional acts or omissions. Its examples include assault and battery. 

The case of Bobby Barrick involves intentional tort due to the excessive force used, resulting in his death. Moreover, the lawsuit alleges the McCurtain County sheriff knew about the incident. This allegation suggests there may have been intentional wrongdoing by the sheriff’s office. 


Cases involving negligence include road accidents, defective products, slip and fall incidents, and dog attacks. Your lawyer must establish the following elements to prove a negligence case:

  • The defendant’s legal duty to the plaintiff;
  • The defendant breached that duty;
  • The plaintiff suffered injury; and
  • The breach caused the injury.

Suppose a drunk driver caused a car accident killing another motorist. In this example, the drunk driver breached their duty to follow traffic regulations. Hence, the deceased’s family members can file a wrongful death lawsuit against the drunk motorist.

In the case of defective products, the lawyer must prove the elements of the product liability. Liability can result from defects in design, manufacturing, and marketing. For example, a fatal truck accident caused by faulty brake pads may give rise to a product liability claim against the manufacturer.

In dog bite cases, families of victims can invoke strict liability or the one-bite rule. Some states have a dog bite statute that imposes strict liability on the owner. Meaning the family members do not have to prove the owner’s negligence. 

In other states, the one-bite rule requires the surviving family member or representative to prove the owner’s negligence or knowledge of the dog’s propensity to attack. Only then can they demand compensation for medical bills and other expenses.

Medical malpractice

Medical malpractice happens when a doctor or healthcare practitioner fails to provide the appropriate treatment, causing injury or death to a patient. The types of medical malpractice include misdiagnosis, surgical errors, and improper medication. If a person dies after a common surgery, the family members can file a case against the surgeon.

Settlement Options

Parties in a wrongful death case may engage in mediation or arbitration to avoid costly litigation. Mediation involves a neutral person who helps the parties solve their dispute and reach a mutually agreeable solution. The mediator will speak separately with the family members and the defendant. After discussing the extent of financial compensation, the mediator gives recommendations.

In contrast, arbitration demands the services of an arbitrator. They will act as a judge and resolve the dispute. The arbitrator’s decision can be binding or non-binding to the parties. If the parties don’t agree with the arbitrator’s decision, they may escalate the case to the court.

These settlement options help parties reach an amicable solution, making them a viable alternative to litigation. Moreover, the parties can discuss their propositions in a confidential and neutral environment.

Defenses in a Wrongful Death Suit

The defendant may invoke the following defenses in a wrongful death case:

  • Failure to prove causation
  • Contributory negligence
  • Comparative negligence
  • Statute of limitations

One of the elements of negligence, product liability, and medical malpractice is the connection between the breach and injury. Suppose the defendant proves the deceased had a brain injury before the accident. Their family or representative may not receive compensation for their financial losses.

Contributory and comparative negligence may also bar recovery of damages from the defendant. The contributory negligence principle would prohibit compensation if the deceased acted negligently. In contrast, the comparative negligence doctrine merely reduces the amount based on the decedent’s degree of negligence.

The statute of limitations can also act as a defense for the defendant. Suppose the deceased family member or representative exceeds the time limit for filing. The court may not consider their case, and they may lose the opportunity to fight for their loved one’s rights.

Factors Affecting Wrongful Death Settlements

Several factors may affect the settlement amount in wrongful death cases. These factors include insurance coverage, the number of dependents, monetary losses, intangible losses, and the skills of the representing lawyer.

Insurance policy

The at-fault party’s insurance coverage may reduce the settlement amount. Suppose the beneficiaries seek $200,000, but the at-fault party’s insurance company only provides $50,000. The maximum amount they can get from a settlement or award is $150,000.

However, you must also consider the defendant’s assets. For instance, it is sensible to accept the $50,000 policy limit if the other party has no assets. Pursuing the case in mediation, arbitration, or court proceedings would be futile. The defendant has no assets, so you will not receive any amount after the proceedings.

Moreover, states have varying minimum requirements for auto insurance. For example, in Florida, drivers must carry bodily injury coverage up to $10,000 per person. In contrast, Colorado has a higher minimum coverage at $25,000 per person.

Number of the dependents

The settlement amount may also depend on the number of beneficiaries. For instance, the family of a 19-year-old high school girl may demand a different amount compared to a 32-year-old married engineer with four minor children. 

In the example, no one depends on the high school girl for monetary support. Hence, it would be challenging for the girl’s family to prove future lost earnings. In contrast, the 32-year-old decedent has four minor children. Hence, their estate can demand lost earnings.

Before receiving the settlement money, the hospital and funeral home providing medical and funeral services on credit would first be compensated. This process is known as subrogation.

Moreover, the lawyer on contingency will get 20 to 50 percent of the settlement money as payment for legal services. The contingency arrangement benefits the family by eliminating up-front fees, allowing them to negotiate legal fees with the attorney.

Next, the surviving spouse will receive the settlement amount if the decedent has no surviving parents and children. Similarly, the children would get the settlement money if the deceased has no surviving spouse.

Monetary losses

The deceased’s family members or representatives can demand compensation for the following:

  • Medical treatment
  • Funeral expenses
  • Household services
  • Future financial support

Medical expenses may include hospital bills, surgery costs, laboratory fees, and prescription drugs. For example, if the accident victim underwent an unsuccessful spine surgery, the at-fault party is still responsible for the medical bills.

The defendant must also pay for the funeral and burial expenses of the deceased. The funeral expenses may include payment of cremation, casket, embalming, and rental of facilities. Some families also provide commemorative packages for the mourners. A reasonable funeral fee costs $7,848.

Recoverable losses may also include household services. For instance, the wife might have cared for the children and done the laundry. After her death, the husband needed a housekeeper to do these tasks. On average, hiring the services of a housekeeper costs $29,960.

The family may also request compensation for loss of earning capacity. Suppose a married physician with two children dies due to a truck accident. In computing the settlement amount, the parties must consider the pre-injury earning capacity and work-life expectancy. 

Other factors affecting monetary compensation include the age and health of the deceased. If the deceased has poor health, the at-fault party may argue that their illness was the primary cause of death.

Intangible losses

Wrongful death can cause emotional distress to the surviving family members. Consequently, the plaintiffs may demand the following non-economic damages:

  • Mental anguish
  • Loss of companionship
  • Loss of gifts
  • Loss of consortium

Mental anguish includes grief, anxiety, and depression the family experienced due to their loved one’s death. Depression can affect the family’s daily life. It can cause sleep disturbances, agitation, suicidal thoughts, and trouble concentrating. It may also lead to refusal to attend classes or a loss of interest in meaningful activities among children.

Human beings naturally need love and comfort from family members. However, they may lose their sense of belonging due to a loved one’s death. For instance, a husband who lost his wife will no longer receive the same companionship and support only his late wife could give.

In the same example, the surviving husband can demand payment for the loss of consortium. It aims to compensate for the loss of affection and sexual relations. In deciding the settlement amount, the parties must consider the spouses’ living arrangements, the stability of their marriage, and the type of companionship between them.

Skills of the wrongful death attorney

An experienced attorney can help the family receive fair compensation in a wrongful death case. A lawyer will thoroughly investigate the case, interview witnesses, collect relevant evidence, and review the facts to strengthen a wrongful death claim. By doing so, the attorney can determine your expected compensation.

A wrongful death lawyer can also negotiate with the opposing party on behalf of the family. As a result, the family can maximize the settlement money. The lawyer will use their legal knowledge and negotiation techniques to represent the best interests of the dependents.

When choosing an attorney, consider their experience in handling wrongful death cases. Likewise, consider their ability to explain complex legal concepts in a way you can understand. Moreover, they must update you on the case’s progress to alleviate any concerns regarding the claim.

Furthermore, a lawyer must show empathy and compassion toward the deceased’s family throughout the legal process. When considering potential attorneys, the family should assess the possible attorney-client relationship. 

Types of Payout in Wrongful Death Cases

The deceased’s family may receive the compensation in a lump sum or structured settlement. A lump sum is a one-time satisfaction of the at-fault party’s obligation. The family can pay all the medical bills, funeral costs, and other expenses. It also allows the beneficiaries to invest the money for future use.

In a structured settlement, the dependents may receive monthly, quarterly, or yearly payments over a certain period. It allows the family to satisfy mortgage payments and other ongoing expenses. It also provides a regular income for the surviving family members.

Did you know?

The average wrongful death settlement amount depends on the factors mentioned above. It can range from $500,000 to more than $1 million on average. However, some plaintiffs may receive much less.

Hire an Experienced Wrongful Death Lawyer

Losing a loved one can have devastating effects on a family’s emotional and financial well-being. The grief and trauma can be overwhelming. Moreover, the sudden loss of income and support can lead to financial instability. 

Fortunately, an experienced attorney can help families recover. They can represent the deceased’s family member or representative in seeking compensation and obtaining a fair settlement. A fair settlement allows them to get compensation for monetary and non-monetary losses.

Visit The Personal Injury Center for a free case evaluation. We will match you with a reliable lawyer who can effectively guide you throughout the legal process of a wrongful death claim.

Losing a loved one can be challenging for surviving family members. The Personal Injury Center can help you connect with a lawyer with experience in handling wrongful death claims.

FAQs on Wrongful Death Settlements

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) excludes wrongful death settlements from taxation. The family may use the total amount to satisfy debts and pay household expenses.

A victim sustaining injuries due to another's negligence may file a personal injury claim. In contrast, family members or representatives of the deceased may institute a wrongful death case if another’s negligence or intentional act caused the death of their loved ones.

It depends on various factors, including the case’s complexity and whether the parties involved can reach an agreement. Sometimes, a wrongful death case can take several years to resolve. Some may settle within a few months.