Are the Survivors Entitled to Recover Damages for Their Emotional Distress?
- March 29, 2017
Much of the focus on the recovery of damages in a wrongful death case has to do with monetary issues that survivors face because of the death of a husband, father, child, or other loved one. Along with damages related to the financial hardship that may result, many courts also allow damages that are based on the emotional distress created by the death. While the legal provisions for damages related to emotional distress vary from one state to another, most jurisdictions do recognize the following and will consider them as part of the overall damages awarded as part of the suit.
Loss of Companionship
This type of non-economic damage focuses on the fact that the deceased is no longer present and in a position to provide companionship for a spouse, domestic partner, parent, or a child. When someone who was an integral part of the household or a central figure in the family is taken away because of the negligence or improper actions of another person or entity, the gap left in the family unit can be significant. Attempting to adjust to the new circumstances can generate a great deal of emotional distress and require some type of professional help. The damages awarded can aid in helping the family unit make those adjustments and learn how to keep going without the presence of the loved one.
Loss of Love and Comfort
The spouse or domestic partner who must now move forward without the love and comfort provided by the deceased will have a major adjustment to make. It does not come easily in most cases, even when there is the motivation to do so because of the need to take care of minor children. With the emotional support that was once part of the relationship now missing, learning how to continue without the love and comfort that helped make the home stable and secure takes time. Many courts recognize this fact and are willing to extend some amount of damages as a way to provide the spouse or partner with the financial resources needed to seek counseling and find a way to move forward without that love and comfort.
While those who are left behind did not contribute to the circumstances surrounding the death, they are the ones who must deal with the aftermath. A spouse will feel deep emotional pain as the result of the loss of a spouse. Children who are mourning the loss of a parent will have many deep questions and sometimes wonder if they had done something different, perhaps their father or mother would still be around. Parents may deal with the emotional pain of wondering if they could have done anything to prevent the chain of circumstances that led to the death, even though it’s obvious that there was nothing they could have done.
Emotional pain can run deep and coming to terms with that pain can take quite some time. In the interim, those affected may find it hard to concentrate on other matters and get on with their lives. The granting of damages for emotional pain can ease the potential for additional financial hardships while those who are left behind work through the grief and eventually get to a place they can keep going in spite of the loss of their loved one.
Many courts recognize general emotional suffering as something that survivors face. The suffering may take the form of developing emotional illnesses like anxiety or depression in the days and weeks following the death of the loved one. Others may find that they are emotionally numb and can’t seem to feel anything at all. Activities that once brought joy hold no appeal, and even the ability to extend love to other survivors seems to be muted somehow.
When the decision is made to file a wrongful death suit, the best approach is to provide complete disclosure to the attorney about what the survivors are experiencing. Along with damages related to verifiable financial expenses, there is a good chance that one or more forms of damages for emotional distress will also be applicable to the case. If so, rest assured the attorney will include as much detail as necessary in the filing and improve the odds that the court will choose to honor those claims if the suit is won.