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Can a judge modify my wrongful death award?

If you have lost a loved one to a fatal mishap, whether a car accident or medical error, you are likely trying to find a way to cope with your emotional losses. Making matters worse, you might be having trouble finding a way to pay the bills, including medical expenses, funeral costs and everyday expenses that might have been covered by your lost loved one's now missing wages. In an attempt to recoup these damages, you may choose to file a wrongful death lawsuit against the individual and/or company who caused your loved one's passing, based on the legal theory of negligence.

If you win on your claim, then a jury may award you and your family compensation. However, the jury's award determination is not final. Instead, the judge on your case has the power to adjust the award, either giving you more or less than the jury recommended. The reasons a judge may do this are various, but he or she may consider whether the deceased often wasted his or her money, and if the jury awarded too much compensation based on the decedent's potential despite low earnings at the time of death.

It is worth noting that a jury may award lost wages to a surviving family despite the fact that the deceased was unemployed at the time of death. Yet, if the surviving family fails to provide adequate documentation of the deceased individual's average earnings when he or she was employed, then the judge may set aside the jury's award and come up with a new figure.

This means that, in addition to doing everything possible to establish negligence and causation, you have to clearly show the extent of your family's damages. This is not always as easy as it seems. However, by having the assistance of a legal professional on your side, you may learn how best to do this.

Source: FindLaw, "Wrongful Death Overview," accessed on Nov. 1, 2015

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