Wrongful death cases in New Hampshire are controlled both by statute statute and common law interpreting those statutes. A wrongful death case is, quite simply, a personal injury negligence case in which the injured party dies as a result of the negligent act or occurrence. As such, the liability considerations are the same as an injury case in which the victim survives, i.e., legal fault or negligence must be proven against the responsible party. Damages in a wrongful death case, however, are quite obviously different than in a typical bodily injury claim. A wrongful death case is brought by the Estate of the decedent. Therefore, it is necessary to have an administrator appointed by the Probate Court before proceeding. Once a claim or lawsuit is brought, the Estate is entitled to claim monetary damages for: (1) any medical bills associated with the treatment of the decedent; (2) conscious pain and suffering; (3) funeral expenses; (4) economic loss to the Estate; and (5) loss of the enjoyment of life of the decedent. Economic loss to the estate requires expert testimony. The damages are calculated by determining the life expectancy of the decedent. Then, the decedent’s educational and work background are considered, as well as their income prior to death. That “income” factor is then roughly multiplied by the number of working years before retirement – a factor which may vary depending upon the person. Interest rates and calculations for loss of benefits are included to come up with a figure representing the “income” the decedent would have “brought into” his or her Estate. Then, a discount is applied for “retirement years” when the person would have been consuming, and not earning. The final figure is what would have been left in the Estate had the person lived to their normal life expectancy. The calculations can vary significantly depending upon the person’s age, education, earning history, working years remaining, and general health prior to death. This is why economic and sometimes medical forensic expert testimony is necessary to establish this element of loss. The element of “loss of enjoyment of life” is relatively new, having been established by Supreme Court decision in the 1990’s. This is an open ended damage claim which allows the Estate to receive compensation for the loss of the decedent’s life, i.e., the years of enjoying life that the decedent lost as a result of the accident. This element can be significant in the case of a child or young person who does not yet have an solid earnings history to prove the “loss to the estate” element. It is also significant in cases of retired individuals since it is during retirement years that a person, while not earning income, is theoretically freed to enjoy life without the burden of working. The key in these cases is in the manner in which the damages are developed and presented to an insurance company for settlement, or to a jury for a verdict. These cases are complex, and typically very emotional for the family involved. Therefore, it is recommended that a highly regarded New Hampshire personal injury lawyer be consulting as soon as possible so that case investigation and development can proceed in such a manner as to maximize the value of the claim. Also, by retaining counsel early, much of the emotional work and worry can be removed from the family members and turned over into the hands of a professional.
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