Wrongful Death in New Jersey: What can and cannot be recovered

The New Jersey Wrongful Death Act provides an opportunity for financial compensation to be recovered by the surviving family members of individuals who are killed as a result of the negligence or wrongdoing of another party, such as a vehicle accident or medical error. Most wrongful death claims in New Jersey are filed by the surviving spouse, children or parents of a deceased individual, though other family members may be eligible under certain circumstances.

What can be recovered for wrongful death in New Jersey?

The purpose of the wrongful death statute is to compensate a deceased person's dependents for the financial harms they suffer as a result of the death. Thus, recoverable damages in a successful New Jersey wrongful death claim may include:

  • Medical, hospitalization and funeral costs: If, prior to death, the deceased individual required hospitalization or other medical care as a result of the same negligent or wrongful act that led to his or her death, the family may be able to receive compensation for those expenses. Funeral costs may also be included in the calculation of damages.
  • Lost income: Survivors may be able to recover compensation for the loss of financial support that they would have received from the deceased individual, including past and future wages as well as the loss of fringe benefits such as employer contributions to a retirement plan.
  • Replacement services: The cost of hiring someone to perform services that otherwise would have been provided by the deceased, such as household chores and child care, can also be included in the calculation of damages. Compensation may also be awarded for the replacement of other services, such as advice and guidance, if it is of a type that may be purchased from a professional such as a business advisor or therapist.
  • Injuries suffered by the deceased: In certain cases, the surviving family members may be able to recover financial compensation for the injuries sustained by the deceased prior to death, including any pain, suffering or disability that he or she experienced.

What cannot be recovered for wrongful death in New Jersey?

Although New Jersey wrongful death law provides for a fairly wide range of damages, not all types of losses can be compensated through a wrongful death lawsuit. For instance, the following types of harm, though very real, are not generally recoverable:

  • Survivor's emotional distress: Survivors typically cannot recover for the grief, mental anguish or other emotional distress they may experience as a result of losing a loved one.
  • Loss of enjoyment of life: Wrongful death damages in New Jersey do not include compensation for survivor's loss of enjoyment of life resulting from the death of a loved one. Likewise, survivors cannot recover for the deceased individual's loss of the ability to enjoy life.
  • Punitive damages: The Wrongful Death Act is intended to provide compensation survivors for their financial losses - not to punish the party responsible for causing the death. Therefore, punitive damages are not typically available.

New Jersey families who have suffered the loss of a loved one due to someone else's negligence or wrongdoing are encouraged to speak with an experienced wrongful death lawyer to learn more about the types of compensation that may be available and to discuss the possibility of pursuing a wrongful death claim.