Yes, both minor and adult children have the option of suing for the loss of a parent due to someone else’s negligence. In the case of a minor, the lawsuit would most likely be filed on their behalf by their surviving parent or the executor of their deceased parent’s estate. If both parents have passed, the executor or holder of power of attorney would carry out the lawsuit on behalf of the children or the estate.
There’s generally less compensation available for adult children, primarily because that adult child doesn’t rely as heavily on their parents for financial support.
Some of the most significant damages available in wrongful death cases are intended to compensate for the loss of resources the beneficiaries relied upon.
For example, if a family loses their primary earner to a car accident, they could seek damages for the deceased’s yearly income calculated out for the remainder of their expected working life. The family can also seek damages to pay for benefits like health insurance and even retirement savings, if those were resources they lost due to their loved one’s death.
The purpose of most economic damages in wrongful death lawsuits is to ensure the family’s quality of life doesn’t suffer because of the untimely death of a loved one.
An adult child may not be relying on their senior-aged parent to support them financially, in which case they may not be able to seek compensatory damages for lost wages, or if they can it won’t be based on the same calculation it would be for a minor child.
Not all damages are economic in nature, as a parent’s contribution to their child’s life is far from just economic. In addition to income, parents also offer emotional support, parental guidance, family time together and even help around the house for spouses.
In a wrongful death case, it’s important for wrongful death attorneys to show the entire person and explain in detail all the contributions they were making to a family.
Attaching a monetary value to some of those things is impossible. There’s no formula that lets you put an exact dollar and cents valuation on a parent’s love or a spouse’s affection, but part of your attorney’s job is to attempt that quantification.
There are limitations in some states on damages available to adult children. For example, in Florida an adult child (25 years or older) can only sue for mental pain and suffering damages if the decedent didn’t have a surviving spouse.
That essentially means if your father died due to someone else’s negligence, but your mother was still alive, the assumption would be that you can still get parental companionship from your surviving mother. However, if you had lost both your parents, mental pain and suffering would be legitimate damages to pursue.
It’s worth noting that in Florida a minor child technically means a child who is 25 or younger. A minor child is always entitled to pain and suffering damages if they lose either parent (even if one of their parents is still alive) to a wrongful death.
Building these cases can be painful, and they’re not an easy thing for attorneys, children or even insurance claims adjusters to go through.
For example, if a family files a wrongful death lawsuit for a loved one who died of cancer caused by a workplace hazard, photographs of children with sick parents are highly effective negotiating tools. Things like videos of children talking about how much they miss their parent and explaining the things they used to do with that parent can be used to show the jury how much the loss will affect the children.
Attorneys may also use things like holiday videos of happier times to build up the case that the loss of a parent is leaving a huge emotional hole in a family unit.
As heartbreaking as all of that sounds, it’s those types of strategies that tend to result in greater pain and suffering damage valuations.
It’s true that from a wrongful death perspective, an adult with no children will seem to be worth less in a courtroom than an adult with children. It’s not a value judgement on who they are as a person, just what their loss means for surviving family from an economic and emotional standpoint.
Keep in mind the goal with any personal injury or wrongful death case is to make the injured party financially whole and compensate them for any pain and suffering they endured. In a wrongful death case, the injured party is the surviving family members.
If there’s no one who was relying on the decedent’s income for support, their lost wages may not be relevant to achieving that goal.
The same goes for emotional pain and suffering and loss of consortium. If there are no children that need parental guidance, then surviving family members can’t seek those damages. If the parent who died wasn’t in their children’s lives, there will be less evidence available to suggest their loss will have a significant detrimental impact on their household.