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22.8 Damages – Wrongful Death

Wrongful Death

The law recognizes that when a person dies as the result of another’s wrongful conduct, there is injury not only to the deceased but also to immediate family members.  While it is impossible to compensate the deceased for the loss of [his/her] life, it is possible to compensate certain family members for the losses that they have suffered from the death of a loved one.  For this reason, Delaware law provides that when a person dies as a result of another’s wrongful act, certain family members may recover fair compensation for their losses resulting from the death.  In determining a fair compensation, you may consider the following:

(1) the loss of the expectation of monetary benefits that would have resulted from the continued life of [decedent’s name]; that is, the expectation of inheritance that [name of family beneficiaries] have lost;

(2) the loss of the portion of [decedent’s name]’s earnings and income that probably would have been used for the support of [names of family beneficiaries];

(3) the loss of [decedent’s name]’s parental, marital, and household services, including the reasonable cost of providing for the care of minor children;

(4) the reasonable cost of funeral expenses, not to exceed $2000; and

(5) the mental anguish suffered by [names of eligible family beneficiaries] as a result of [decedent’s name]’s death.

The term “mental anguish” encompasses the grieving process associated with the loss of a loved one.  You may consider that the grieving process, accompanied by its physical and emotional upheaval, will be experienced differently by different people, both in its intensity and in its duration.  The ability to cope with the loss may be different for each person.

There is no fixed standard or measurement.  You must determine a fair and adequate award through the exercise of your judgment and experience after considering all the facts and circumstances presented to you during the trial.

While [plaintiff’s name] carries the burden of proving [his/her/their] damages by a preponderance of the evidence, [he/she/they] [is/are] not required to claim and prove with mathematical precision exact sums of money representing their damages for mental anguish.  It is required only that [plaintiff’s name] furnish enough evidence so that you, the jury, can make a reasonable determination of those damages.

Source:

10 Del. C. ‘ 3724 (Wrongful Death Statute)(as amended June 14, 1999).  Bennett v. Andree, Del. Supr., 252 A.2d 100, 101-03 (1969); Gill v. Celotex Corp., Del. Super., 565 A.2d 21, 23-24 (1989)(mental anguish); Saxton v. Harvey & Harvey, Del. Super., C.A. No. 85C-JL-3, Poppiti, J. (April 14, 1987); Sach v. Kent Gen. Hosp., Del. Super., 518 A.2d 695, 696-97 (1986)(claim by surviving parents); Okie v. Owens, Del. Super., C.A. No. 83C-AP-15, Poppiti, J. (October 16, 1985).

See also Frantz v. United States, D. Del., 791 F. Supp. 445, 448 (1992)(proper beneficiaries of claim for wrongful death); Johnson v. Physicians Anesthesia Serv., D. Del., 621 F. Supp., 908, 915-16 (1985)(action and potential damages arise only after time of death).

Credit: Delaware Superior Court