What Are Wrongful Death Damages in New Jersey?
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"Damages" is the legal world's name for the monetary compensation a defendant in a lawsuit pays to a successful plaintiff. Many plaintiffs are put off by this idea at first; rightly believing that it's impossible to put a price on a human life. However, a sudden death can cause substantial unexpected financial problems for a family. Families may suddenly lose an income; have to replace a full-time parent with a paid caretaker; or face high funeral bills. For those without substantial savings, these costs can be overwhelming, especially when added to the grief of losing a spouse, child or parent. (Despite legislative efforts, New Jersey law does not allow family other than spouses, children or parents to sue for a wrongful death.)
New Jersey's Wrongful Death Act authorizes survivors to collect damages for the financial losses they suffered as a result of losing a loved one to a wrongful death in New Jersey. Most commonly, the largest financial loss is the loss of the loved one's income -- called "loss of financial support." You may sue for the loss of all of the money the loved one was expected to contribute over the remainder of his or her working life, including future wages adjusted for reasonable promotions, raises and inflation.
Other financial damages you may be able to claim include the following:
- Burial or funeral costs.
- Medical bills related to the death.
- Any related repair bills, such as car repairs.
- The value of the person's unpaid help around the house.
- Loss of companionship.
- In the case of a married victim, loss of spousal relations.
- Children's loss of a parent's guidance.
- In the case of a child victim, loss of the child's companionship, advice and future financial support.
In some cases, a wrongful death is caused by injuries that linger for weeks or months, causing great pain and suffering to the victim. Because these are losses to the victim only, the survivors can't recover for these damages under the Wrongful Death Act. However, they may file a separate claim for those losses under New Jersey's survival statute, which pays damages to the estate of the victim -- which is generally owned by the survivors. In a survival action, you can claim any damages that would have been available to the victim if he or she had lived with an injury caused by the accident. That includes compensation for physical pain and suffering, any disabilities, scarring or other permanent injuries; related expenses; lost earning capacity; and loss of enjoyment of life.
Survivors may not collect damages for emotional distress under the New Jersey Wrongful Death Act. However, plaintiffs can frequently also claim "negligent infliction of emotional distress," a cause of action alleging that those responsible for their loved one's death hurt them emotionally with the severe carelessness that led to the death. In order to succeed with this claim, you must be able to prove that you witnessed your loved one's death; that you had a marital or close family relationship; that you were severely emotionally distressed by this; and that the defendant caused the death.
As you can see, New Jersey's wrongful death laws are complex and can change frequently. If you're considering filing a wrongful death lawsuit, you should contact Lependorf & Silverstein, P.C. as soon as possible. New Jersey gives most defendants just two years from the date of the death to file a wrongful death lawsuit, and the statute of limitations may be even shorter if a government agency is involved. In order to succeed with your claim, it's essential to get the advice of an experienced New Jersey personal injury lawyer as early in the process as possible.
The attorneys at Princeton-based Lependorf & Silverstein, P.C. have practiced law in New Jersey for 20 years. Our firm works for a contingency fee -- meaning we don't get paid unless and until we win your case. Our compensation is a percentage of your winnings that we'll agree on in advance, so there are no hidden charges. And Lependorf & Silverstein, P.C. offers free consultations to potential clients, so there's never any risk in contacting us to discuss your rights and the likely outcomes of your case. To speak with an experienced lawyer today about different categories of damages, call us at (609) 240-0040.
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