Economic Damages In A Wrongful Death Case

As stated in earlier blogs, in Georgia, the measure of damages for a wrongful death is “the full value of the life of the decedent.” One component of the full value of the life of the decedent is the loss of earnings and loss of income. If a 28-year old dies while earning $40,000.00 per year and he/she will work until age 70 (which is another 42 years) one simple way to calculate the loss of wages would be 42 years times $40,000.00 per year. However, such a simple equation might not account for future raises, future benefits and a better revenue stream as the decedent proceeds in their career path.
A jury sometimes can be aided by the testimony of an economist, who can show the jury based on statistical data what an earnings history would look like for someone with a similar background and education, what kind of benefits they could expect to earn, etc. Of course, in today’s economic times, a jury also has to determine whether an income stream would remain unabated, whether the decedent would likely receive raises, etc. While there are no clear cut answers to these difficult questions, nonetheless, juries do have to determine what the “economic loss” is in a wrongful death context. In the hypothetical wrongful death case a 28-year old, has been killed while earning $40,00.00 per year. What would constitute fair compensation for the loss of such a promising life if the person was already earning $40,000.00 per year and had even brighter future prospects? Whether an economist is employed or whether the Annuity Mortality Table is utilized simply to argue for compensation over the remaining 42 years of the life of the decedent, either way, the calculus is not definitively defined, but is instead left to “the enlightened conscience” of fair and impartial jurors seeking justice in a wrongful death case. That is the measure – counsel must help the jury use this measure if fair compensation is to be achieved.

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