Wrongful DeathMaximizing Future Earnings Factors When Calculating Damages in a Wrongful Death Lawsuit

December 24, 20230

Losing a loved one unexpectedly is traumatic enough without having to worry about financial stability on top of grieving. When fatal accidents occur due to another party’s negligence, surviving family members may be able to file a wrongful death lawsuit seeking compensation for their loss. However, accurately calculating the true worth of a human life and potential earnings is complex. One key factor involves thoroughly assessing the deceased’s future earning capacity and career trajectory then maximizing this amount when determining economic damages.

Quantifying Lifetime Earning Potential

A core component in calculating likely compensation in a wrongful death case involves analyzing what the deceased victim could have earned over their full career in the absence of premature death. This entails quantifying as accurately as possible the total loss of income and benefits over time. While no statistical model can ever precisely predict all the variables that impact an individual’s earning capacity decades into the future, certain factors help establish reasonable expectations grounded in education, achievement and career norms. Key aspects in evaluating lifetime earning potential include:

Education Level Attained: The highest education level the victim completed often significantly impacts overall earning ability and future career options. Someone killed shortly after obtaining a medical degree or PhD clearly has greater earning potential over a 40+ year career than if their education ended at high school or an undergraduate degree. Any post-graduate specialization expands possibilities.

Occupational Status: Was the victim already established in a career when they passed or just starting out? Those already progressing upwards in reputable fields typically yield exponentially higher lifetime incomes versus entry-level positions with lower starting salaries.

Income Growth Potential in Chosen Field: Certain occupations see more rapid pay growth over time while others plateau relatively early. Comparing income projections over decades working in the deceased’s specialty field establishes expected earnings ranges based on documented averages.

Job Performance and Promotion Potential: Consistent high performers tend to move up into management and senior leadership roles faster, increasing their income growth rates. Assessing past performance, 360 reviews and likelihood of future promotions establishes reasonable assumptions for calculating potentials.

Health Condition Prior to Accident: Any disabilities or adverse health conditions that could theoretically impact future earning ability or career duration may be considered when conservatively assessing financial projections. However, future possible disabilities that never occurred should not reduce actual damage amounts.

Accounting for Standard Career Development

In addition to current education and occupation, a major aspect of accurately forecasting likely income growth involves looking at standard career timelines and developments typical for the deceased victim’s specialty field. This establishes norms for their earning trajectory absent premature death based on demonstrated ambition, talent and past performance. Assessing predictable promotions and salary increases over decades based on reasonable assumptions grounded in actual past achievement provides support for larger projected totals.

Aspects to consider when mapping out expected career developments over time:

  • Would they likely have continued rising up to higher positions of responsibility and leadership?
  • Might they have changed careers or returned to school at some point to expand skills?
  • Could they have started their own business or moved into consulting roles later on?
  • Might they have written books, given speeches or licensed intellectual property?
  • Were they expected to take over a family business or farming operation?
  • Could they have become experts who testify in trials as expert witnesses?

Analyzing how the individual victim’s career path was likely to develop and accounting for increased authority, responsibility and compensation at different stages helps accurately maximize lost earnings over decades. Documented past achievement and talent provides evidentiary support for such projected career developments. Reasonably describing several likely promotions, skill expansion, special projects, and other evidence for rising future income potential based on actual demonstrated ability sets reasonable expectations for total losses.

The Impact of Benefits and Perks

Beyond just base salary amounts, evaluating likely total compensation packages over time also matters significantly when attempting to quantify lifetime earning potential. For certain occupations, benefits and perks can equal or even exceed base pay over the course of a career. These forms of indirect compensation must be included when tallying the full projected value of lost earnings. Compiling a comprehensive list of all likely benefits projected out decades helps capture the true loss.

Some common work benefits and perks to factor in over time include:

  • Health, dental and disability insurance
  • 401k matching amounts
  • Stock options or equity awards
  • Tuition reimbursement
  • Company car allowance and mileage reimbursement
  • Performance and holiday bonuses
  • Country club, gym, or airline lounge memberships
  • Housing and relocation allowances
  • Expanded vacation and sick time
  • Professional association dues

The projected future value of such benefits and perks depends on the specifics of each victim’s career path and likely trajectory within their chosen specialty field. Experts will evaluate the norms for expected benefits over time at certain seniority levels in relevant careers or positions. Where possible, reviewing publicly available executive and specialty occupation compensation figures from industry associations, unions or public companies provides reasonable estimates for these forms of additional compensation. The goal is to maximize the projected total value of all lost future earnings inclusive of salary, benefits, and perks over what could have been a 30+ year career based on educated assumptions grounded in actual achievement and career norms rather than pure speculation.

Seeking Expert Legal Representation

No dollar amounts or courtroom decisions can ever fully compensate for the tragic and untimely loss of a loved one. However, obtaining fair and sufficient economic damages can help ease severe financial pressures on grieving families facing a sudden loss of income. For personalized, expert support with maximizing earning potential estimates when filing a complex wrongful death lawsuit, consult and retain an experienced personal injury attorney as early in the process as possible.

Knowledgeable wrongful death lawyers adept at calculating lifetime compensation scenarios and negotiating effectively can develop a compelling case delivering adequate damages to help your family move forward financially. Do not hesitate to schedule a free initial case assessment and consultation with one of our attorneys.

You can visit our office at 15 Broad St #800 Boston, MA 02109 or call now for a free consultation on (617) 263-0860.

COVID-19 Notice – We remain here for you and can answer any questions or concerns you may have. Learn More »