What Damages Can Be Recovered in a DC Wrongful Death Lawsuit?

By Peter DePaolis

If your loved one met with an untimely death due to the negligence or wrongful conduct of another, a Washington DC personal injury attorney could seek compensation on behalf of the legal beneficiaries. Most wrongful death cases arise from car accidents, truck collisions, defective products, and other situations involving negligence, but neglect or the failure to act when required could also be grounds for a wrongful death claim.

When your close relative dies unexpectedly, you might experience financial hardship. It could be helpful to find out what damages can be recovered in a DC wrongful death lawsuit. 

Types of Money Damages in Wrongful Death Claims in DC

Every wrongful death claim is different because the facts are unique in every situation. The amount and types of money damages you could pursue will depend on your circumstances.

Here are some of the more common categories of compensation people seek in wrongful death claims:

  • Loss of financial support of the deceased person. Our courts use average life expectancy and the decedent’s work history to calculate the income and benefits the deceased person likely would have earned but for the wrongful death. The legal beneficiaries lost the benefit of this financial support from the decedent.
  • Medical expenses for the fatal injury. The wrongful death damages can include the reasonable cost of medical treatment necessary to treat the wounds from the final illness or injury. These expenses can include things like the ambulance, emergency room, trauma center, hospital, doctors, surgery, diagnostic procedures, lab work, blood transfusions, and other necessary medical interventions.
  • The jury can award a reasonable amount to pay the cost of the funeral and burial.
  • If the deceased person did not have an income, the court can consider the financial value of services the decedent provided to the family, like homemaking, child-rearing, and other activities.

Unlike many other jurisdictions, the District of Columbia does not allow the legal beneficiaries to receive compensation for intangible losses, like grief or loss of companionship. Another way that our jurisdiction differs from the mainstream is that DC does not limit the amount of compensation a judge or jury can award in a wrongful death lawsuit. 

Who Gets the Proceeds of the Settlement or Jury Award

If the decedent had a will or a living trust, the compensation generally goes to the deceased person’s estate, which distributes the money damages. When a person dies intestate, meaning that they did not have a valid will or other estate plan document when they died, our district’s law controls how the money damages get distributed.

When a decedent has a surviving spouse but no living parents or children, the surviving spouse will receive all of the proceeds. If the decedent had a surviving spouse and children, the percentage each will receive will depend on whether the children also belonged to the surviving spouse. With no surviving children, the spouse will receive most of the proceeds, and a surviving parent will receive a small portion.

If the decedent was unmarried and had no surviving children, the parents will receive all of the proceeds. When the decedent leaves behind no surviving spouse, parents, or children, the deceased person’s siblings will receive compensation. 

Because these cases often involve large sums of money, the defendant usually mounts an aggressive defense. With so much at stake, it can be a smart decision to work with a DC personal injury attorney on your wrongful death claim. For legal assistance, get in touch with our office today, we offer a free consultation. 

About the Author
Peter DePaolis joined the firm in 1980 and has since represented a large number of individuals involved in automobile collisions, truck accidents, bus crashes, defective products, and medical malpractice cases. A significant portion of Mr. DePaolis’ practice is devoted to working on behalf of people suffering from asbestosis, mesothelioma, and other asbestos-related cancers. He has led his firm’s fight against the asbestos industry and has recovered over $30 million in damages for asbestos victims and their families.