The wrongful death of a family member is almost always occasioned by the wrongful action or inaction of another person. Wrongful means that someone needlessly endangered our loved one - an endangerment that proved fatal. A close examination of the circumstances surrounding the death often reveals that the risks of danger that took one precious life also threatened the lives of many.
Our experience, reflection and learning all teach us that "any man's death diminishes me . . . and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee." We represent family members who have lost loved ones. No matter the circumstances of the survivors, they have truly been diminished by the death of their family member. They are impoverished by grief and mindful of the words of Job - Yet if I speak, my pain is not relieved, and if I refrain, it does not go away.
A wrongful death lawsuit presents us with the task of telling the story of a precious life. In an equal sense, it is our task to tell the stories of those that survive - of their grief and loss. The law makes no claim that it can replace the most precious part of the loss of a family member. It easily allows for the replacement of income and for the reimbursement for expenses caused by the death. These are important claims, but they don't reach into the deepest parts of our collective desire that the scales of justice somehow be balanced - a rendering that is the most important part of a juror's job.
Survivors daily face a harsh reality - their loved one is gone from the earth forever. This reality is overwhelming. A jury needs to be told of the losses that fill this reality. Our law identifies the elements of losses that should be compensated. A well-represented family will present testimony - stories that address the impacts of the loved one's loss - impacts that are not relieved - that don't go away. These impacts include the grievous losses of love, companionship, affection, comfort, care, assistance, protection, society and moral support. People that knew the loved one, who worked for him or with him, who lived near him or went to school with him, who observed him, who worshipped with him, and who can help tell the story of loss are all potential witnesses.
How Do You Calculate Grief and Loss?
Most people, jurors included, will readily accept that the smallest amount of harm should receive the smallest recovery. The greater the harm - the greater the recovery should be. The death of a loved one is the greatest harm - it is complete - it is not fixable, and it does not go away. If small harm should be compensated at $50,000 then the greatest harm should be compensated at $5,000,000.
These figures change from place to place and time to time, but at a time when the average annual salary of a major league baseball player is over $3,000,000, it takes little imagination to understand that the value of a life is far in excess than one year playing of baseball. Ultimately the purpose of the law is to balance the harm, and the purpose of the jury is to decide what it will take to balance that harm. This is a task that juries address daily. It is the job of the advocate, who fights for his client, to help provide guideposts for this balancing.