There are two very different, but very important, reasons to consider a wrongful death lawsuit in Wisconsin. First, you may benefit emotionally from knowing that the person who took your loved one’s life has been held accountable. Second, you may benefit financially for the damage that has been done.
The first benefit—the emotional benefit—is one that you should consider carefully. Ultimately, only you can decide how important that is for you and your family. The second benefit, however, can be considered with full knowledge of the potential damages that your loved one’s estate may recover in a Wisconsin wrongful death case.
The Potential Compensation
A wrongful death lawsuit verdict or settlement can result in a recovery of:
- Medical expenses. Medical bills incurred from the time of the accident until death may be compensable. This includes any medical treatment—whether at the scene of the accident, at the hospital, or elsewhere—that was made necessary by the injuries sustained in the accident.
- Out-of-pocket costs. This category includes all of your loved one’s funeral expenses. Additionally, it includes any costs that you have had to pay because of your loved one’s death, such as property damage or child care expenses.
- Lost income. You may recover for all past and future lost income. Lost income includes wages, bonuses, benefits, money from self-employment, and any other income that could not be earned.
- Emotional pain and physical suffering. Both your loved one’s physical pain and emotional suffering that was endured from the time of the accident until the time of death may be included in a wrongful death verdict or settlement. Additionally, your family’s emotional suffering may be compensated up to a certain amount set by Wisconsin law. As of 2017, that cap was $350,000 for the death of an adult and $500,000 for the death of a child.
Punitive damages are not permitted in Wisconsin wrongful death actions. The exact value of the damages that are allowed depends on numerous factors, and those should be discussed during an individual meeting with an experienced wrongful death attorney.
How Wrongful Death Damages Are Distributed
When a Wisconsin wrongful death claim is filed, the law decides the order of beneficiaries eligible to collect the damages won in the lawsuit. Wisconsin Statute §895.04(4) determines the order in which any wrongful death damages will be distributed. The order is determined by the beneficiary's level of dependence on the deceased and the type of damages.
Damages for loss of consortium (loss of marital relations) are, of course, limited to the surviving spouse or domestic partner. The surviving spouse, children, parents (if the deceased is a minor), and heirs of the deceased may be able to collect other damages.
In Wisconsin, the spouse or domestic partner of the deceased is first to be considered for compensation in a wrongful death claim. If there are minor children, the children may receive up to 50 percent of the damages awarded. If there is no spouse or children, the parents, siblings, and grandparents of the deceased are next in the order of beneficiaries.
How to Protect Your Family’s Rights
No matter how egregious the acts of the person who killed your loved one, you will have to take action in order to protect a wrongful death recovery. A recovery will not be awarded automatically even if a criminal case is filed. Accordingly, it is up to the personal representative of your loved one’s estate to take action as soon as possible. The starting point should be talking to an experienced wrongful death lawyer who will fight hard for your family’s fair recovery.
To learn more about your rights or to get a more specific idea about the type of damages that your family may be able to recover in a wrongful death lawsuit, please contact us via this website. We are available at any time to schedule a free, confidential consultation with one of our lawyers.