Value of Wrongful Death Cases in Maryland Where Victim Is 65 or Older

Lawyers handling wrongful death cases encounter an awful argument from defense lawyers in cases where the victim is 65 years-old and older: you have to discount the value of your claim because the victim was old, anyway. The argument is so callous no lawyer would directly make this argument to a jury, especially in a jurisdiction like Maryland where there is a meaningful cap on wrongful death and survival action damages.

The “victim was old anyway” argument is offensive and cold…but not, relatively speaking, entirely untrue when you look at jury verdicts. There is some measure of truth to it. Once you get past how awful it sounds, the differences do make sense. The money damages awarded in a wrongful death claim with a young victim having 70 more years of expected life should be higher than with an older victim having only 20 more years of expected life because the victim’s family will be without them longer and the victim missed out on a lot more life.

The reason why the argument is so offensive is not the underlying premise – older victims get less – but the “How big was the loss, really?” way in which it is pitched. The reality is that juries still place real values on these losses. According to Metro Verdicts Monthly, juries have over the last 22 years awarded an average verdict in Maryland wrongful death cases of $1,337,824 involving victims 65 and older. Washington, D.C.’s average is slightly higher, $1,443,818. Incredibly, and this really underscores jurisdictional differences, Virginia’s average verdict in wrongful death cases involving victims 65 and over is an abysmal $685,535, less than half that of the District of Columbia.
It is worth remembering that these statistics are for cases that go to trial. The better cases – and many of these cases are medical malpractice cases because malpractice occurs with great frequency in the treatment of older patients – more typically settle. So these average wrongful death verdicts statistics are more than likely artificially low.

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  • Hi Ron:

    First; I wanted to tell you I enjoy reading your blog. It’s a great example of what a legal blog should be, informative and entertaining.

    I wanted to drop you a note about your post because it discusses something I posted about on my blog last week; the disparity in non-pecuniary damage awards between Canada and the States.

    You think it is difficult preparing a family for the defence argument: “Grandad was old anyway so his death isn’t worth that much”?

    Try telling a grieving family that in Canada the victim’s estate cannot recover anything for non-pecuniary damages: “Grandad’s death is worth nothing…”

    Furthermore, non-pecuniary awards for loss of care guidance and companionship for surviving family members typically top out at about 60 thousand dollars.

    I can’t tell you how many medical malpractice claims I have turned away where it was clear the doctor’s negligence killed the patient. But the victim was elderly and didn’t provide financial support to the family, so the claim just isn’t financially viable.

    Keep up the great work.

    John

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