I’ve often said that is a key, perhaps the key, role of personal injury attorney to intelligently and accurately assess the value of a case. That role assumes even more significance in a wrongful death action. It goes without saying that monetarily quantifying the value of someone’s life is not possible. Money is surely no substitute for one’s health or life. But it is the measure of compensation permitted under our system of civil justice, designed to provide some measure of solace to the survivors.
The earnings, earning potential, age, health, background and experience of the victim are among those factors considered by a jury.
Wages, earning capacity, and the loss of employment-based benefits.These three concepts are all related to income and potential future income. They are intertwined but are separate and distinct concepts. The economic component of a wrongful death claim is of paramount importance, as under Maryland law there is no limitation on economic damages in a wrongful death claim.
- Lost wages are the wages and individual would have earned, based on what they had earned before, extrapolated over the course of time. This time-frame could be over the course of their normal anticipated working life, i.e., up to a reasonably anticipated retirement age. Upon the presentation to proper testimony, a reasonable cost of living increase might be allowed in the calculation.
- Earning capacity is different from lost wages. Earning capacity takes into account a reasonable surmise or conjecture of what might have happened, or within reasonable probability, would have happened over the course of someone's working life. For example, consider someone that was just starting a career in a field that, upon obtaining a certain level of experience, paid very well. If a tragedy ensued, it would be unfair the family to calculate that person's income loss over the course of their expected life based solely on what they were making at the time of their death. If it was reasonably probable that their income would substantially increase as they advanced in their career, it would be fair to consider their future earning capacity in setting how much the family lost in income potential. The background, training, education and experience of the individual are considered in connection with this determination.
- Lost pension or other employment-related benefits. Upon the presentation of proper proof, it may be possible to demonstrate that someone lost the opportunity to continue to accrue employer contributions to a 401k, or potentially other contributions to insurance premiums because of their wrongful death.
The age of the victim. It is a difficult mathematical calculation, but the reality is that the life of a younger person might be viewed as having more value than the life of a person of more advanced age. The rationale here is simply that a younger individual would have more time to provide nurture, comfort, companionship guidance and counsel to their family members than someone who is of advanced years. From a logical perspective, it's a rationale that makes perfect sense. From an emotional perspective, it is often difficult for family members to understand. The age, and relative life expectancy, of the victim play an additional role when calculating lost wages, earning capacity and the loss of associated employment benefits discussed in more detail above.
The overall health of the individual. Here again, there are some cold, hard logical and statistically probable facts that seem enormously harsh when they arise in the context of an untimely end to a life. Actuarial tables and logic tell us then someone who is young and healthy is going to live longer than someone who is of advanced age and/or suffers from preexisting health problems. The latter person has a shorter life expectancy than the former. From a visceral perspective, it is often difficult for family members to understand how one life can be considered more valuable than another.
There are other factors that a jury is instructed to consider when assessing non-economic damages, including the loss of:
- Advice, counsel, training, and guidance.
These concepts are difficult to quantify, describe and convey to others. An experienced Maryland wrongful-death attorney, removed from the emotion and turmoil of the loss of a loved one, can objectively identify, shape and present these concepts to an insurance company, a claims adjuster, or a jury.