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Judges can adjust wrongful death awards

Losing a loved one in a fatal accident is perhaps one of the worst things that can happen to a family. The shock of the incident can be debilitating, and the waves of emotional pain that can follow can be crippling. On top of this, the financial loss in the form of lost wages, medical expenses, and funeral costs, can shake the family's financial foundation. Fortunately, these families can turn to the legal system for help, as a successful wrongful death lawsuit may bring much needed compensation to help cover losses and impose a sense of justice and closure.

Yet, once a jury awards compensation to a surviving family, it may not be final. A judge always has the final word, and he or she may adjust a jury's award if he or she deems necessary. This goes both ways. If, for example, the deceased was known to squander his or her money, then a judge may adjust an award downward. This can also happen if the deceased had a history of low earnings, despite his or her potential.

On the flip side, though, a judge may increase a jury's award if justified. A jury may fail to adequately assess all income documentation, causing it to shortchange the surviving family. In these instances, the judge may step in and award the family more compensation than the jury otherwise intended.

It is worth noting that most adjustments are downwards, which is why it is critical to be thorough throughout the lawsuit process. Not only does a surviving family need to be able to show negligence and causation, but they also need to be able to show the full extent of their harm. When damages take noneconomic form, this can be difficult to do. But, by speaking with an attorney, a surviving family may be able to develop a strategy that works to ensure them maximum amount of compensation is received in the event that the claim succeeds.

Source: FindLaw, "Wrongful Death Overview," accessed on Nov. 2, 2015

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John McCabe wrote "The Investigation and Analysis of Personal Injury Cases" in the best-selling book Personal Injury Practice in North Carolina. This is the book that other lawyers follow in handling personal injury cases.

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