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What Is the “Pecuniary Value of Life” in a Tennessee Wrongful Death Claim?

If you have lost a loved one in a tragic accident or because of some negligent act or omission, you may be considering a wrongful death action. If the events leading to the death occurred in Tennessee, the case would proceed under Tennessee state law. The damages you could recover might include compensation for:

  • Medical bills due to the injury event
  • Funeral and burial expenses
  • The decedent’s mental and physical suffering from the injury event until death
  • The decedent’s loss of earning capacity from the injury event until death

All of these damages compensate your loved one’s estate for the harm the deceased suffered. But there is another category of general damages that compensates surviving loved ones directly. This is called the pecuniary value of the life of the deceased. This odd phrase refers to the awkward and inadequate task of quantifying what the deceased was worth to family members in monetary terms.

The first element in deciding this is a calculation of how much the deceased would have earned over the course of a natural lifespan, based on health, life expectancy and career path. From that amount, the decedent’s estimated living expenses for the same period are deducted. The net amount goes to the plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

But the second element in pecuniary value concerns the relationship between the deceased and the survivors, generally referred to as consortium. For a surviving spouse, an estimate must be made of the monetary value of their love and affection, as well as their sexual intimacy. Likewise, surviving children can recover compensation for the loss of a parent’s love and affection, society, guidance, and nurturing. Parents of a deceased child may recover damages for the loss of love, society and affection of the child.

The law cautions that the amount must be the “reasonable value” of consortium, because, impossible as they are to calculate, these losses can be wildly inflated if a jury responds with compassion unfettered by reason. Courts have the power to rein in jury awards when they appear to be the product of passion rather than rational thinking. Even so, the pecuniary value of the life is usually the highest-value aspect of wrongful death damages.

If you have lost a loved one and are considering a wrongful death action, speak to a compassionate and capable attorney at Massengill, Caldwell & Coughlin, P.C. Call us today at 423-797-6022 to schedule your free initial consultation, or contact us online.

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