How is the Value of a Wrongful Death Case Determined?

Losing a loved one is always difficult, no matter the circumstances. When a death results from natural causes, there’s at least an acceptance and understanding that it is the natural order of things. Unfortunately, when a loved one is taken as the result of the negligent or intentional acts of another, the remaining family members and friends must cope with the feeling that the death was preventable and unnecessary. Oregon law, by holding wrongful actors accountable for their actions, strives to both prevent these unnecessary deaths and to make the victims feel whole again. In this article, we will address some of the key factors that courts and juries consider when determining the value of a wrongful death case.

Is There a Formula for Determining the Value of a Wrongful Death Case?

We are often asked, even in initial telephone calls, to provide our opinion on the value of a case. The question is important and understandable, and we’re always happy to help. However, every wrongful death case is unique, and value is affected by many factors. As a result, there is no simple formula one can use to determine the value of a wrongful death case. However, by understanding the categories of damages that can be recovered, along with the factors that influence them, we can start working on determining the value of a case.

Understanding the Role of The Court and Jury

The role of the jury system in Oregon cannot be overstated. While it is true that most people who have a wrongful death claim hope to settle their case prior to trial, even the value of a settlement is greatly determined by the court system. In preparing the case, both sides attempt to estimate the value a jury would ultimately place on the case if it went to court. Therefore, it’s important to try and view facts dispassionately, as if through the eyes of a juror.

The jury considers many factors, such as medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering. Sometimes, a jury may reward parties they perceive positively, and penalize those that they perceive negatively. Thus, both sides work hard before trial to obtain evidence that will persuade the jury. And remember, the wrongdoer’s insurance company will provide at least one lawyer, and maybe many more, in an effort to gather evidence which will protect and limit the recovery against the insured wrongdoer. This may even include the gathering of evidence intended to paint the victim in a poor light. Thus, it’s imperative at all stages of the case to have your own counsel when dealing with the opposing party’s insurance company.

Analyzing Damages

Oregon law allows recovery for both economic and non-economic damages. Economic damages can be determined objectively and include items such as medical bills and lost wages. Non-economic damages, on the other hand, are subjective by nature. Often times, we find that it is necessary and effective to use expert witnesses to help determine these damages and present them to a jury. For example, assume that an adult dies as the result of a semi-truck accident or as the result of medical malpractice during an operation. An expert can help determine the amount of future wages lost by the deceased. The expert might consider: the person’s age; how many more years the deceased would have worked; the deceased person’s level of education; the deceased’s wage or earnings history; a reasonable interest rate to determine the present value of these payments; and other factors. This is only one of many ways an expert witness can assist with a wrongful death case.

Consult with An Attorney

Placing a value on wrongful death cases can be tough. No amount of money makes up for the loss of a loved one, but at Nelson MacNeil Rayfield, we believe the system works best for all Americans when wrongdoers are held accountable for their actions. Our experienced wrongful death attorneys can help you value your case and help make sure that you don’t make missteps with the wrongdoer’s insurance company and its lawyers. While we work hard to settle cases, if a trial is necessary, we are experienced trial lawyers and can help you make sure that the jury fully understands your damages. Please give us a call with any questions, or for a free consultation.


Helpful Links

Economic and Non-Economic Damages:

Oregon Revised Statutes Section 30.020 – Action for wrongful death:

Rule on Testimony by Expert Witnesses:

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