When a child dies, the parent does not just lose the joy of having their child in their life, but all of their hopes and dreams they had for their child’s future are extinguished along with their child’s life.
If the child’s death was the result of an auto accident, the parents can file a wrongful death claim against the driver who caused the child’s death and the driver’s insurance company. However, claims for wrongful death are subject to specific legal rules that include who is allowed to file a lawsuit, deadlines for filing and court probate issues.
In the past, the law only allowed the injured party themselves to file a personal injury cause of action, meaning a lawsuit could not be brought by a third party. This meant a wrongful death lawsuit could not be brought since the injured person had died.
However, various jurisdictions across the U.S. have enacted wrongful death statutes that permit certain individuals, like parents, to file a wrongful death lawsuit for the death of a relative if the individual has died as the result of legally established fault of another person.
Parents Can Sue for Damages
Parents can ask for damages related to the death of their child; however, the age of the child can have an impact on the awarded damages. Except in a rare circumstances, a young child does not have an income so lost wages are usually not a consideration. Such exceptions could include the child being employed as an actor or model where future wages may be calculated into a settlement.
A wrongful death lawsuit can also be brought for older as well as adult children. In these cases, lost future wages can be a factor, especially if the child was helping to support their parent(s).
However, the main claim parents bring a wrong death lawsuit is to sue for the loss of love, comfort, security and the resulting loneliness, possible isolation and vulnerability the parents may experience from the loss of their child.
In the past there has been some contention on about whether parents could sue for wrongful death if their child was married at the time of death. This view was based on the premise of the possibly of coexisting wrongful death claims from the domestic partner and parent. One exception to this is if the child was supporting the parents and the lost wages will affect the parents’ standard of living.
Damages Parents Can Sue For
The three types of damages parents of the deceased child can sue for are tangible, intangible, and punitive damages. Together, these damages are meant to compensate for the full value of the loss of their child’s life.
1) Tangible damages are easier to calculate than intangible damages because each of these can be assigned fixed dollar amount. Tangible damages include:
- Medical bills resulting from the accident.
- Child’s lost wages.
- Loss of the child’ and/or parent’s future income opportunity.
- Funeral expenses.
2) Intangible damages are referred to as “special damages” because these are much harder to assign a concrete value to. Intangible damages include:
- The physical pain and suffering the deceased child experienced as a result of the accident.
- Mental anguish caused by the accident.
- Parent’s loss of their child’s companionship or care.
3) Punitive damages are meant to punish the person whose carelessness or wanton disregard for others was responsible for the child’s death. While there are other situations, the most common example of this behavior is a drunk driver who knew the behavior was dangerous to others and engaged it in regardless of that foreknowledge.