What kind of damages are the beneficiaries entitled to in a wrongful death claim?

In North Carolina, damages recoverable for death by wrongful act tend to focus on the LOSS OF THE VALUE OF THE DECEASED TO the beneficiaries, and include the following:

 

1. Expenses for the care, treatment and hospitalization of the decedent due to the injury resulting in death;

 

2. Compensation for pain and suffering of the decedent;

 

3. The reasonable funeral expenses of the decedent;

 

4. The present monetary value of the decedent to the persons entitled to receive the damages recovered including, but not limited to compensation for the loss of the reasonably expected-

 

    1. Net income of the decedent,

 

    1. Society, companionship, comfort, guidance, kindly offices and advice of the decedent to the persons entitled to the damages recovered;

 

    1. Punitive damages, if indicated.

 

Obviously, some of these items arehard to quantify. It is the job of your attorney to explain to you and to the jury what each of these things mean, and to bring out all of the evidence from your family and from all available witnesses and experts in order to actually put numbers on the boardnear the most important items on the list above. The importance of each of the above items will vary from case to case and from beneficiary to beneficiary.

 

For instance, what in the heck are the “kindly offices” of the deceased? I have heard it explained that this means the “family duties” that the deceased engaged in while they were alive. In other words, the deceased family member held a certain “office” in the family, such as the office of father, mother, etc. Therefore, “kindly offices” can be interpreted as all the things that the decedent did in his or her work or role as a family member that is not covered by one of the other categories.

 

In Virginia, damages recoverable by Wrongful Death include some of the same items as North Carolina, but also focus a bit more on the pain, grief, and anguish suffered by those left behind:

 

    1. Any sorrow, mental anguish, and loss of solace suffered by the beneficiaries. Solace may include society, companionship, comfort, guidance, and kindly offices, and advise of the decedent.

 

    1. any reasonably expected loss in income of the decedent suffered by the beneficiaries; and

 

    1. any reasonably expected loss of services, protection, care, and assistance which the decedent provided to the beneficiaries.

 

    1. Any expenses for the care, treatment, and hospitalization of the decedent incident to the injury resulting in his death; and

 

    1. Reasonable funeral expenses.

 

You will note the two biggest differences as follows: First, North Carolina has no specific provision for damages for sorrow and mental anguish suffered by the beneficiaries, whereas Virginia lists that as the first item. That does not mean we cannot argue about the loss of the family member to the beneficiaries in North Carolina. It just means the approach may be slightly different. In Virginia, grief counseling and psychiatric care for a surviving spouse or child, particularly if the death was extremely traumatic or violent, would be advisable and admissible on damages to prove mental anguish, whereas in North Carolina, it may not be admissible.

 

Second, you will note that Virginia has no provision whatsoever for damages relating to the pain and suffering of the deceased, whereas North Carolina does. This can be particularly difficult if there was a long and painful road from injury to death; however, it appears the legislature in VA determined that it would be easier to prove the effect of such an ordeal on the living rather than the deceased, so they put in the mental anguish provisions to cover that.