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After a person is killed due to the negligence or wrongful acts of another party, the person's surviving immediate family members may file a wrongful death claim to hold the other party liable for their damages.

These damages can include some things that are easy to calculate, such as burial expenses and medical bills incurred before death, and others that are difficult to calculate, such as the loss of the loved one's companionship and projected income.

How does a court calculate these damages? The answer is complicated.

If the deceased was an adult whom the family depended upon for income and support, the court will probably look at the deceased's income and employment history, at the person's age at the time of death, and make a guess at how much longer they might have lived and worked had it not been for their untimely death. From there, a court can estimate how much the deceased would likely have earned and contributed to the family's income.

Things get murkier when calculating damages such as loss of companionship, loss of parental guidance or, in the case of a spouse, of intimacy. Courts also have a hard time coming up with a way to calculate the financial loss of a child who was too young to earn an income, or of a person who was retired or not working.

Many people are uncomfortable with the whole idea of calculating damages in these claims, and that is understandable: No amount of money can replace a loved one. Still, economists have lots of research showing that the loss of these qualities can have a lifelong impact on people's mental and physical health, as well as their financial wellbeing. It's important for survivors to recover compensation for these damages.

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