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3.4-7  Damages - Wrongful Death

Revised to January 1, 2008

I want to discuss the laws pertaining to damages.  I will address our general rules and then I will discuss the specific laws relating to a wrongful death case. 

As you know, this case is captioned <name> v. <name>.  (Mr./Ms.) <name of plaintiff>, while labeled the plaintiff, is the (executor / administrator) of the decedent <name of decedent>'s estate; the estate is the actual plaintiff in this case.  Any damages awarded in this case would go to the estate and not simply to (Mr./Ms.) <name of plaintiff>.

The General Rules of Damages
Insofar as money can do it, a plaintiff is to receive fair, just and reasonable compensation for all injuries and losses, past and future, which are legally caused by the defendant's proven negligence.  Under this rule, the purpose of an award of damages is not to punish or penalize the defendant for (his/her) negligence but to compensate the plaintiff, and in this case the estate, for the decedent's resulting injuries and losses.

Our laws impose certain rules to govern the award of damages.  The plaintiff has the burden of proving (his/her) entitlement to recover damages by a fair preponderance of the evidence.  The plaintiff must prove both the nature and extent of each particular loss or injury for which (he/she) seeks to recover damages and that the loss or injury in question was legally caused by the defendant's negligence.  You may not guess or speculate as to the nature or extent of the plaintiff's decedent's losses or injuries.  Your decision must be based on reasonable probabilities in light of the evidence presented at trial.

Once the plaintiff has proved the nature and extent of the decedent's compensable injuries and losses, it becomes your job to determine what is fair, just and reasonable compensation for those injuries and losses.  Some determinations require a mathematical calculation; others involve the use of human experience and the application of sound common sense.

In a personal injury action, which includes a wrongful death action, there are two general types of damages with which you must be concerned: economic and noneconomic damages.  Economic damages are monies awarded as compensation for monetary losses and expenses which have been incurred as a result of the defendant's negligence.  They are awarded for such things as the cost of reasonable and necessary medical care and lost earnings.  Noneconomic damages are monies awarded as compensation for non-monetary losses and injuries which the plaintiff's decedent has suffered as a result of the defendant's negligence.  They are awarded for such things as physical pain and suffering and the destruction of the ability to enjoy life's pleasures.

Wrongful Death Damages
We have a statute that governs damages in cases such as this where there is a death.  It allows for just damages which includes:

Economic damages of:
1) the reasonable and necessary medical and funeral expenses and
2) the value of the decedent's lost earning capacity less deductions for (his/her) necessary living expenses taking into consideration that a present cash payment will be made and

Noneconomic damages of:
3) compensation for the destruction of the decedent's capacity to carry on and enjoy life's activities in a way that (he/she) would have done had (he/she) lived and,
4) compensation for the death itself, or
5) pain and suffering.

[The statute also allows damages for pain and suffering; however, due to the instantaneous death of (Mr./Ms.) <name of decedent> there is no claim made for pain and suffering.]

I will now instruct you on economic damages.

1. Reasonable and Necessary Medical and Funeral Expenses
You may award damages for the reasonable and necessary medical, funeral and burial expenses.  The plaintiff is entitled to recover the reasonable value of medical care and expenses incurred for the treatment of injuries sustained by the decedent as a result of the defendant's negligence.  The plaintiff must prove that the expenses (he/she) claims were reasonably necessary and legally caused by the defendant's negligence.

2. Destruction of Earning Capacity
The destruction of earning capacity, that is, the capacity to carry on the particular activity of earning money, may be compensated.  First, we address the probable net earnings, in the ordinary sense of that phrase, during the decedent's probable lifetime.

In measuring the compensation for the destruction of  (Mr./Ms.) <name of decedent>'s earning capacity over (his/her) probable lifetime, it is proper for you to consider the salary or wages (Mr./Ms.) <name of decedent> had been earning before the injury which caused (his/her) death.  This is not conclusive evidence; yet, it is evidence of the value of (his/her) earning capacity.  It is likewise proper for you to consider (his/her) general experience as a wage earner and (his/her) qualifications for conducting a gainful occupation.  Necessarily, the damages would be limited to that period of time which you find would have been (Mr./Ms.) <name of decedent>'s length of life had (he/she) not died.

Next, you should understand that the probable income taxes must be deducted from (his/her) probable lifetime earnings to get any fair or proper basis for assessing reasonable compensation for the loss caused by the destruction of (his/her) earning capacity.  For all practical purposes, the only usable earnings are net earnings after payment of such taxes.

[<If expert testimony was offered on economic loss:>  You may recall the testimony of <name of expert> who described (his/her) formula in reducing to present value lost earnings over the decedent's working lifetime.  (He/She) estimated what the wages would have been had the decedent lived to work from age___ through age ___.]

Next, the probable cost of future personal living expenses must also be deducted from an award of reasonable compensation for the total destruction of (his/her) earning capacity.  The phrase "personal living expenses" refers to those personal expenses that would have been reasonably necessary for (him/her) to spend to maintain (his/her) lifestyle in order to keep (himself/herself) in such a condition of health and well-being that (he/she) could enjoy life's activities before (his/her) death.

Accordingly, in determining the loss to the plaintiff, you must subtract probable income taxes and necessary personal living expenses.

Now I will instruct you on noneconomic damages.

3. Destruction of Capacity to Enjoy Life's Activities
Damages are also allowed for the destruction of (Mr./Ms.) <name of decedent>'s capacity to enjoy life's activities.

Evidence has been presented as to those incidents of life that (Mr./Ms.) <name of decedent> enjoyed, including family, work, sports, recreation and other aspects of life.  You may consider those areas in connection with this claim and award damages for this loss. 

4. Compensation for the Death Itself
The rule is that insofar as money can do it, the plaintiff may be awarded fair, just and reasonable compensation for the loss of life.  As in the other categories of damages, there is no precise mathematical formula for a jury to apply.

5.  Pain and Suffering
<In the event the death was not instantaneous, see relevant portions of Damages - General, Instruction 3.4-1>

Loss of Consortium
<See Damages - Loss of Consortium, Instruction 3.4-3 where applicable.>

Double or Treble Damages, General Statutes § 14-295
<See Damages - Double or Treble, Instruction 3.4-2 where applicable.>

Authority

General Statutes § 52-555; General Statutes § 52-555a; General Statutes § 52-572 (a) and (f);  Carrano v. Yale-New Haven Hospital, 279 Conn. 622, 650-51 (2006); Katsetos v. Nolan, 170 Conn. 637, 657, 659 (1976); Floyd v. Fruit Industries, Inc., 144 Conn. 659, 669-76 (1957); Tesler v. Johnson, 23 Conn. App. 536, 541-42 (1990), cert. denied, 217 Conn. 806 (1991).

Notes

"Personal living expenses" do not include recreational expenses, nor that proportion of living expenses properly allocable to the furnishing of food and shelter to members of the decedent's family other than himself.  Carrano v. Yale-New Haven Hospital, 279 Conn. 622, 651 (2006).
 


 

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