How to determine the length of damages in wrongful death cases

In wrongful death cases, damages continue through the point in which the suing party - generally the spouse and/or children of the decedent - is no longer experiencing losses due to the death. In other words, damages continue until the suing party is ‘made whole’, with the calculated damages making up for any economic impact they suffered from the death.

For earnings and benefits damages, this is commonly the work life expectancy or assumed age of retirement of the decedent. However, in some instances the damage period may be shorter, for instance when the spouse is significantly older than the decedent and has a shorter life expectancy than the length of the decedent’s work life expectancy.

Work life expectancies are the length of time someone is expected to be employed in the workforce. There are various approaches to determining work life expectancy; the most common method using data of similar individuals’ work patterns. Learn more about work life expectancies here.

In some cases, using a specific age as the work life expectancy is more appropriate. For example, older workers closer to a retirement age may have a plan for retirement in place that they would likely have followed. This is common for government employees planning retirement with a pension plan.

For household services damages, while the decedent may have been able to perform household services through their entire projected life expectancy, the spouse's age should be taken into account just like with earnings and benefits. Further, any children of the decedent may not have been living with their deceased parent and may not be owed any household services, or they may have been planning to leave the house at a certain age.

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