Who gets the money in a wrongful death settlement?


January 2, 2020 / Wrongful Death

Many family members are grieving after the death of a loved one, and those feelings are heightened if the person was killed in a vehicle accident or other wrongful death event.  After initial confusion and sadness subside, family members can begin to ask questions like “who gets the money in a wrongful death settlement?”

The role of attorneys in the wrongful death settlement process is to help navigate the legal system to ensure that you receive the financial compensation you are entitled to.  If you have been affected by the wrongful death of a loved one and want to learn more about your legal rights, contact the attorneys at Stephenson Rife in Indiana for a free consultation.  We can answer your questions, explain the law and discuss your legal options.  Call us at 317-680-2501.

Who Gets the Money?

The law is clear regarding compensation patterns in wrongful death cases, and it outlines who gets the money in a wrongful death settlement.  Indiana’s wrongful death statute, Indiana Code 34-23-1, defines wrongful death as a case in which “the death of one is caused by the wrongful act or omission of another.”  A somewhat easier way to understand wrongful death is to think of it as a personal injury case in which someone died.

According to Indiana statute, a legal claim must be filed by “the personal representative of the decedent within two (2) years, and the damages shall be in such an amount as may be determined by the court or jury, including, but not limited to, reasonable medical, hospital, funeral and burial expenses, and lost earnings of such deceased person resulting from said wrongful act or omission.”

Generally, money from a wrongful death lawsuit is awarded to the deceased person’s estate and is distributed as follows:

  1. First, money from the estate (which was specified as medical and burial damages) is distributed to medical entities, hospitals and the funeral home for the payment of the decedent’s medical and burial costs incurred as a result of the wrongful death.
  2. The remainder of the financial damages awarded, if any, are given to the widow or widower, as the case may be, and to the dependent children, if any, or dependent next of kin. The money will be distributed in the same manner as any personal property of the deceased, as laid out in the decedent’s will.
  3. If there is no spouse, dependent children or dependent next of kin, the statute goes into minute detail about which third-party entities receive funds from the estate. The statute also details the distribution of money to lawyers who may recoup attorney’s fees and fees for administering an estate.  You can read more here.

How Much Money Can a Wrongful Death Settlement be Worth?

The value of wrongful death settlements varies widely depending on the particulars of the case.  Still, it is very common for family members to wonder how much money a wrongful death settlement can be worth.  There is no “average settlement,” because no two cases are alike.

Juries in Indiana can award wrongful death damages in several categories.  These include:

Lost Financial Support.  Lost financial support means any money that the deceased would have provided to maintain the household and dependent family members had he or she lived.  This typically includes future earnings from a job and other income.  These damages are designed to prevent family members from enduring a dramatically reduced standard of living caused by the person’s death.

Lost Household Services.  Lost household services means the time, work and attention given to maintaining a home, caring for children, and other domestic activities that you will now have to find a replacement for, including the need to hire and pay someone to do these things.

Loss of Parental Guidance.  Loss of parental guidance means that if the survivors are minors then they will have lost the guiding hand and care of a parent and this will affect their opportunities and decisions in the future.  Courts can award compensation for this.

Loss of Affection, Love and Care.  Loss of affection, love and care means that the person who died was a huge part of your life and you shared many years, hopes and dreams together.  The loss of this person will affect you for the rest of your life and may never be replaceable.

Medical Expenses.  Medical expenses refers to money owed to doctors, hospitals, first responders, labs, and others involved in medical care for the deceased.

Burial Expenses.  Burial expenses means funeral home costs for a funeral and burial of the deceased.

Attorneys’ Fees Related to Brining the Lawsuit and Administering the Estate.  These include attorneys’ and administration fees resulting from the lawsuit.

Indiana’s Cap on Wrongful Death Awards.  Indiana caps wrongful death awards by juries for people who do not have any dependents such as a spouse or children.  The settlement cap is $300,000 for persons without dependents.

A skilled and experienced wrongful death attorney can help you determine how much settlement you could be entitled to.  Call a lawyer at Stephenson Rife at 317-680-2501 and we can discuss your case in greater detail.

How are Wrongful Death Settlements Paid Out?

Generally, settlement awards are determined by judges and juries or, in some cases, they can be negotiated directly with a defendant’s insurance companies.  Wrongful death settlements are paid out after a courtroom trial or after a negotiated agreement is reached.  The money is paid to dependents as outlined above.

Contact a Wrongful Death Attorney Today

We understand that a family is grieving and trying to comprehend the enormity of their loss after a loved one dies due to wrongful death.  While no amount of money can ever compensate for the loss of a loved one, the legal system does award wrongful death damages to compensate for the death and to provide for dependents in the future.  A skilled and experienced wrongful death lawyer can advocate aggressively on your behalf to make sure you receive the compensation you deserve.  Call the attorneys at Stephenson Rife in Indiana at 317-680-2501 for a free consultation about your wrongful death case.  We are here for you.

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