Wrongful death lawsuits consistently produce the largest jury awards in all of the law. The amount a lawsuit is worth can vary greatly and depends on several factors.
The law surrounding wrongful death lawsuits is very complicated. When you think you have a wrongful death claim, do not hesitate to contact a skilled wrongful death attorney.
How Much Is My Case Worth?
While it is impossible to provide a one-size-fits-all answer to the question of what a wrongful death claim is worth, the amount of compensation that you might be able to obtain for your wrongful death case is based on a few factors, such as:
- Your loved one’s age
- Your loved one’s career
- Your loved one’s salary
- The benefits that your loved one provided to you
- The cost of medical bills or funeral expenses that you paid for
These are the “official” answers. However, unofficially, there are several other things that can affect the amount of damages you receive for wrongful death, such as how sympathetic you or your loved ones are to the jury, how much money your defendant has, or even just what kind of mood the jury is in.
Because of all of this uncertainty, it is important that you hire an attorney to help you navigate your wrongful death claim.
What Are the Highest Amounts Awarded?
Wrongful death cases can result in juries awarding huge sums of money to the families of people who were killed because nothing worse can happen to a person. Juries especially like to punish companies whose negligence leads to someone’s death.
For example, a Texas jury recently awarded $730 million to the family of a woman who was killed in an automobile accident that was caused by a negligent truck driver. In another case, a Pennsylvania jury awarded the family of a person killed in an accident with a U-Haul truck $160 million. In one of the largest jury verdicts in history, a jury in Atlanta, Georgia, awarded the family of a deceased couple $1.7 billion.
What Is the Least I Might Receive?
Any time that you sue someone, there is always a possibility that you may lose. In this situation, the jury would find that the defendant is not liable, in which case you would receive nothing. Assuming that you do receive some damages, however, there are certain things that limit the amount of money you can receive.
“Judgment Proof” Defendants
A “judgment proof” defendant is a defendant who is so poor that suing them is pointless. This is because of two facts.
First, according to the Constitution of South Carolina, no person can be imprisoned for failing to pay their debts. Second, you can only take money from people who were at least partially at fault for an accident.
The Deep Pocket Method
If the person at fault for the death of your loved one is so poor that they do not have any money and do not own a home, car, or other similar assets, there is no way to collect your judgment. You can have a judgment for any amount of money, but if the defendant cannot pay it, they just cannot pay it.
The way around this is called the “deep pockets” method. The deep pockets method is a method by which your attorney will sue any person or company that had anything to do with the accident. Hopefully, this way, you will be able to obtain a judgment against someone who can actually pay you.
This factor goes hand-in-hand with the last one. Sometimes the defendant in your case will not have any money of their own, but they will have insurance. This means that you can get money for your judgment, as the insurance company will pay you on the defendants’ behalf.
However, insurance companies have a trick up their sleeve. There is an absolute cap on the amount of money that they will have to pay. This hard cap is called a policy limit, and the amount of the policy limit depends on what policy the defendant purchased.
For things like car accidents, this policy limit can be as low as $25,000, which is the lowest allowed under South Carolina state law. This means that if your defendant has barely any money, but they have a cheap insurance policy, even if your claim is worth millions of dollars, you might be limited to a recovery of $25,000. Luckily, however, this is relatively rare.
How Can I Collect on My Judgment?
If you win a judgment against a defendant with a high-limit insurance policy or a huge company, you will likely just be given a check for the amount of the judgment at the end of the legal process. However, if your defendant is not rich, you will most likely need to initiate additional court proceedings to collect your judgment. There are attorneys who specialize in debt collection, but your wrongful death attorney will likely take care of hiring such an attorney for you, you will not need to worry about collecting your own judgment.
When you win a judgment in South Carolina, you can, if you need to, get an additional order from the court known as a writ of execution. A writ of execution is a type of legal document where a court will order the sheriff to send deputies to seize any of the defendant’s property that isn’t exempted by law. If necessary, you can sometimes foreclose on your defendant’s home.
While this is not an ideal situation and is just a more inconvenient way of collecting your judgment, this method at least ensures that you will receive some money from the sale of any property that you are able to cease from the defendant. The exemptions on a defendant’s property are fairly narrow, and you can usually seize literally anything that a defendant owns.
Contact an Attorney for Help
At The Shelly Leeke Law Firm, our staff can help you navigate and understand the worth of your claim. To request a free consultation, please get in touch with us today.