Proving Spousal Loss in Wrongful Death Cases
By Dennis McAndrews, Esq.
Founder of McAndrews, Mehalick, Connolly, Hulse and Ryan P.C.
In a recent wrongful death case, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court reiterated the importance of providing complete proof of both economic and non-economic losses to surviving family members in wrongful death cases. The case of McMichael v. McMichael determined that the surviving wife in that case failed to adequately prove any economic damages “regarding the value of lost services resulting from (her husband’s) death”, and therefore the wife’s request for a new trial “based on the jury’s award of zero dollars in economic damages” was properly refused. Significantly, although it was established that the deceased husband performed various useful tasks at the home that would have some apparent value, no specific proof was provided of the actual economic/dollar value of those services.
However, the Court also held that a surviving spouse “may also recover wrongful death damages for non-economic loss, which includes loss of companionship, comfort, society, guidance, solace, and protection, as well as loss of consortium.” Although the wrongful death statute itself does not specifically identify such non-pecuniary losses as being recoverable, the Court cited a decades–old case which held that such non-economic damages are recoverable even absent specific proof of value. The Court held that testimony from the surviving wife related to the positive nature of their marriage was sufficient to establish that some value must be placed upon the loss of that relationship with the deceased husband, which included 30 years of marriage, three children, spending leisure time together, working on outdoor projects, having spontaneous date nights, fixing breakfast every morning, and a plan to build a log cabin together in the future. Given this evidence, the Court found that the failure of the jury to assess any non-economic damages “shocks one’s sense of justice”, and remanded the matter for a new trial to determine the proper value of the noneconomic loss.
Over the course of our firm’s long professional history, we have participated in many cases involving substantial injuries and even death involving millions of dollars in settlements and verdicts. These cases are some of the most challenging to address, but with proper preparation, planning, and skill, these matters can be brought to a successful conclusion. We also have extensively participated in developing estate plans for surviving family members which are designed to ensure their best interests. We are available to assist family members as necessary to meet their needs in these difficult cases.