When Money Isn’t the Motivator for Justice in Wrongful Death Cases

two people embrace in dark hallway as they contemplate what their options are after someone they loved suffered a wrongful death

How can you possibly put a monetary value on the life of a loved one?

Unfortunately, this is a question many people wrestle with when a loved one passes away due to someone’s negligence.

In a wrongful death case, some heads of damage are easier to calculate - the costs associated with funeral and burial expenses and lost income-earning potential, for example. But what about losses that have no monetary value, but incredible emotional value?

How do you put a price on companionship? On the lessons that a parent would have taught their children? On years of love, happy memories, and emotional support from which family members could have benefitted if a person’s life had not been cut short?

Courts have struggled with how to assess non-pecuniary (non-calculable) damages in both wrongful death cases and other civil actions where severe injuries substantially impact an accident victim’s ability to live the life they planned.

It’s often, however, the accident victims’ loved ones that struggle the most with this idea. Does putting a price on a person’s life devalue it? If money can’t bring the person back, what’s the point in even pursuing a lawsuit?

In this blog post, I explain why some people choose to pursue wrongful death lawsuits even if they choose not to keep any of the compensation. For some families, an acknowledgement of the wrong-doing in the form of monetary damages, and the hope that this money can be used to better the lives of other people in the memory of their loved one, makes a civil claim worth pursuing.

It Can’t Bring Them Back…

If you’re seriously injured due to someone else’s negligence, successfully pursuing both pecuniary and non-pecuniary damages in a civil tort action can have major implications for your life going forward.

The cost of medical treatment and rehabilitation, lost income and earning potential, and lost opportunities in your personal life are immense. While non-pecuniary damages can never be equivalent to what you’ve actually lost, they may feel like an acknowledgment from the Court (or the Defendant in a settlement) that something very precious has been taken from you.

Depending on the severity of the impact of your loved one’s passing, these funds may be critical to improving the quality of your life and/or ensuring that you can find ways to take care of the people dependent on you. In fact, Ontario’s Family Law Act allows certain family members and dependants to advance their own claims in recognition of how one person’s loss can have ramifications for other people close to them.

Damages assessed for accident victims are frequently designed to compensate them for permanent injuries or disabilities. It is quite logical that compensation for death, a category of permanence unto itself, should be available to people close to the victim.

Not all family members and loved ones who could legitimately make a claim for wrongful death compensation ultimately opt to pursue compensation through our legal system. Some find it too painful to contemplate a lawsuit that will require them to think about the negligent actions that took their loved one from them; they may prefer to simply let it go for the sake of moving forward.

Others come to the conclusion that pursuing compensation would somehow be an affront to their loved one’s true worth. There are also others who believe that since no action can bring back their loved one (which is what they truly want), damages from a lawsuit would be a hollow victory.

These decisions, and the rationale for them, are deeply personal in nature. A person’s or family’s individual circumstances, philosophies, and plan to grieve and heal will likely factor into what they choose to do (or choose not to do). It should be said that there is no wrong choice - whatever you choose to do is the right thing for you and your loved ones at that moment in time.

…But It Can Help Their Memory to Live On.

As you weigh your options, however, I would like to offer an idea to consider: making a civil claim for damages knowing that whatever money is awarded by the Court or offered by the Defendant in a settlement will be used to honour your loved one’s memory.

Following a settlement or a Judgment by the Court, families may choose to honour their loved one by helping family members with educational expenses, with important investments, or by providing funds for something meaningful to help the memory of their loved on live on.

Deciding to donate some or all of the compensation in a wrongful death case can also be an immensely liberating feeling. Rather than focusing on the admittedly uncomfortable idea of what your loved one’s life might be “worth” monetarily, planning to use the funds in a way to honour their memory and help other people in need means that anything received will be appreciated beyond its material value.

Donating money from a civil claim is not a novel idea, including in cases of wrongful death. For some, money is not the sole motivator in seeking damages. If criminal charges and/or other consequences are not being pursued in response to negligence causing death, obtaining a Judgement or a settlement in civil Court is often enough for some people to feel that justice has been done for their loved one.

If money is awarded in these cases, and if the Plaintiff decides not to keep it for themselves, making a donation to a worthy cause in your loved one’s memory can be a powerful way to find a sense of closure and a sense of renewed purpose.

Consider the following:

  • In wrongful death cases, the lawyer or firm representing a Plaintiff is most likely working on contingency. This means that, if they have taken on the case, they believe that there is a strong likelihood they can successfully negotiate a settlement or win in Court. Therefore, they have assumed most, if not all, of the financial risk of pursuing a case.
  • Planning in advance to donate some or all of the damages/compensation received can free you from worrying about what the final number will or should be. A charity or other worthwhile cause receiving a donation in your loved one’s memory would be thankful for anything and everything they receive.
  • Your donation can go to a cause that: was close to your loved one’s heart; helps people who are in a similar position to your loved one; is fighting to ensure what caused or contributed to your loved one’s death doesn’t hurt others; or that will create a physical symbol to ensure their enduring memory.

While there are countless charities and/or causes for which a donation could give you comfort, if you are unsure of what to do with your wrongful death compensation, you might consider donating to organizations that are devoted to helping people who have also experienced the wrongful death of a loved one but who also face discrimination in pursuing a claim.

For example, ‘In Their Name’ is a non-profit campaign of the BC Wrongful Death Law Reform Society which seeks to reform that province’s Family Compensation Act. At the time of writing, this law only permits wrongful death claims where there are direct financial losses resulting from death. In the eyes of campaigners, this law treats children, seniors, people with disabilities, and those who are unemployed as ‘worthless’ under the law.

Helping You Obtain Justice for the Wrong Done to Your Loved One.

Gluckstein Lawyers has represented accident victims, seriously ill or injured people, and their loved ones for more than 60 years. We know well that each one of our clients has different needs and different reasons for approaching us for legal advice, representation, and advocacy.

When you contact us for a free, no obligation initial consultation, our wrongful death lawyers will listen to you attentively and with empathy, we carefully explain your rights, we outline your various options, and based on everything you’ve told us about you and your potential claim, we advise you about what action may be in your best interest.

If we believe that we can successfully access compensation for you and your family, we would be honoured to represent you. As always, our commitment to full-circle client care means that we strive to help you in any way we can, even once the legal proceedings conclude.

A wrongful death is a tragic, traumatic, and exceptionally painful ending. You should know there are people ready to help you as you create your own new beginning. Contact our team of personal injury lawyers today to learn what we can do for you.


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