Each state sets its own rules for limits on damage awards for wrongful death claims. Neither New Jersey nor Pennsylvania legislation imposes overarching caps on damages in a wrongful death lawsuit. In other words, you can fully recover or, in legal terms, “be made whole” again in most cases.
That being said, there are some restrictions on certain kinds of damages in wrongful death cases in each state that you should be aware of, and New Jersey’s laws differ slightly from those of Pennsylvania. Below we briefly share some of the important caps and restrictions on damages in NJ and PA wrongful death claims.
For specific information about the value of your claim as well as the types of damages you may be able to collect, be sure to speak to an attorney. Call Cordisco & Saile LLC, which handles cases in both NJ and PA, for a legal consult at 215-642-2335.
What are the damage caps on wrongful death claims in PA?
There is no cap imposed on wrongful death damages under Pennsylvania law. Actually, the state constitution prohibits any limitation on economic damages in these types of cases. So, if your damages total $100,000, you can recover $100,000. If they total $3 million, you can recover $3 million.
Pennsylvania does, however, put a cap on the amount of punitive damages you can recover in a wrongful death case. Punitive damages are not compensatory damages, that is, juries do not award them to beneficiaries to compensate them for their actual losses. Rather, juries award punitive damage as a means to punish the defendant for especially reckless or malicious wrongdoing.
Note: Not all damage awards include punitive damages.
Pennsylvania law caps punitive damages at two times your total compensatory damages. So, if your economic and non-economic damages equaled $1 million, the maximum amount of punitive damages you can collect is $2 million.
What are the damage caps on wrongful death claims in NJ?
Similar to PA, New Jersey laws do not impose any caps on wrongful death settlements. However, there are certain damages that are not compensable in wrongful death case in NJ that are generally compensable in other states. You cannot recover the following two types of damages if you file your claim in NJ:
- Punitive damages: New Jersey does recognize and impose punitive damages in certain types of cases, such as personal injury claims, but not in wrongful death claims.
- Emotional damages: Beneficiaries also cannot recover emotional losses related to the death of their loved one, no matter how real or justified the emotional losses may be. While other states provide for emotional damages in wrongful death claims, grief, mental anguish, emotional distress, and loss of enjoyment of having your loved one in your life are not compensable damages for NJ survivors.
What types of damages are compensable in wrongful death claims?
Beneficiaries in both NJ and PA can recover all types of economic, or special, damages. You can recover the actual value of losses and expenses such as the following:
- Loss of the person’s expected future earnings
- Funeral and burial expenses
- Medical expenses incurred before the death
- Loss of inheritance
- Loss of retirement benefits, like pension plans
- The reasonable value of the services, assistance, care, training, guidance, advice, counsel, and companionship the beneficiaries would have received from their loved one had he lived
Remember that in New Jersey, you can only recover economic losses, not emotional losses. So, for the last item listed above, you can only recover the estimated monetary value of those losses (e.g. loss of guidance and loss of companionship) – not the emotional losses of those factors.
If your wrongful death claim is under Pennsylvania’s jurisdiction, however, you can certainly recover noneconomic, or general, damages. These include things such as emotional losses, grief, and loss of consortium. Your attorney will be able to explain exactly what you and your family may be entitled to, help you create a comprehensive list of damages, and estimate the final value of your case.
Do I need a wrongful death attorney to recover damages?
Both PA and NJ laws stipulate that a personal representative of the estate must file and bring a wrongful death claim. Wrongful death attorneys make excellent representatives because they understand the legal requirements and proceedings for cases of this nature. They are much more adept than non-lawyers at navigating – and winning – claims.
Plus, these types of cases oftentimes become complicated, and having a lawyer can help you prepare for and overcome any hurdles that may arise during the case.
For example, you first have to prove that the other party’s negligence caused your loved one’s untimely death. This requires adequate evidence, which can be hard to collect without knowing the legal methods of requesting, collecting, and preserving important evidence. These are tasks that wrongful death lawyers are specifically trained to do.
Then, you have to produce enough evidence to establish just how much compensation you and your family is entitled to recover. But, you only know what you know. If you are not aware that you are entitled to recover a specific loss, such as lost health or job benefits your loved one would have provided, then how can you possibly request compensation for it?
You can secure a much fuller settlement award when you have a legal professional helping you with your case who can clue you into the full extent of the damages to which you are entitled.
Can Cordisco & Saile LLC help me with my wrongful death case?
Our attorneys at Cordisco & Saile LLC can handle any type of wrongful death claim in NJ or PA, be it from a medical mistake, an auto accident, a defective product, or a work incident. Call our firm or fill out the contact form and request a consultation at your convenience.
Consulting with and retaining our attorneys is truly risk-free; not only is the consultation is free, but we also do not charge our clients for our services unless and until we help you recover. Contact us today at 215-642-2335.