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 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 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 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 they pitch it. Juries still place actual 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.
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.
- Average Wrongful Death Verdicts (for women)
- Personal Injury Verdicts Across the Country (personal injury verdicts in your state)
- Value of Wrongful Death Motor Vehicle Accident Cases in Maryland (average settlements and verdicts in car accident cases in Baltimore-Washington metropolitan area)