A family member who has lost a loved one due to the negligence of another is entitled to be compensated for his or her loss. In most jurisdictions, that compensation properly includes money to replace the financial support the family member would have received from the loved one had the accident never happened. Here are some of the factors that are considered in determining what sum is appropriate.

  • How much was the victim earning? This is usually determined by wage or earnings records.
  • How much was the victim capable of earning? The victim’s "earning capacity" may be higher than what his actual earnings reflected. A higher earning capacity is sometimes evidenced by the victim’s education, employment history, and work-related accomplishments.
  • How much was the victim actually contributing to the family member’s support? Though actual contributions may be relevant, the family member need not prove legal support obligation as in the case of the forgotten widow.
  • Was future support likely? Even if the family member hadn’t received support in the past, he or she may still prove that he or she expected support in the future. For example, parents have been allowed ompensation when they proved that misfortune, ill health, or simply old age might eventually have forced them to rely on the victim for financial help.
  • How much would the victim have spent on himself? In some states, the wrongdoer is entitled to argue that appropriate compensation is determined by subtracting the amount of money the victim would have spent on himself (for things like tuition, health care, hobbies, etc.) from the victim’s total projected lifetime earnings.
  • But for the accident, how long would the victim have been expected to work? The victim’s "work-life" expectancy is often the subject of dispute. In determining how long the victim would have continued to work, and thus provide financial support, courts consider evidence about the victim’s health, lifestyle, and attitudes about work.
  • What is the family member’s life expectancy? The family member can recover only the support he or she would have likely received from the victim. That means that the family member’s life expectancy, if shorter than the victim’s work-life expectancy, may be relevant. In California, mortality tables  are frequently considered when trying to determine life expectancies, but aren’t conclusive. 

The family member is entitled to be compensated today for all the support that he or she would have likely received in the future. That means that the total amount of support that the family member would have received must be discounted to present value.  Finally, if the victim acted carelessly or negligently and his actions were a contributing factor in causing his death, then the amount of compensation due will be reduced in proportion to the fault attributable to the victim.