Legal Memorandum: Damages for Wrongful-Death in NJ

Issue: What is the measure of damages for wrongful-death actions in New Jersey?

Area of Law: Personal Injury & Negligence
Keywords: Wrongful-death; Damages
Jurisdiction: New Jersey
Cited Cases: 160 N.J. 221; 212 N.J. 462; 85 N.J. 1; 417 A.2d 15; 245 A.2d 177; 902 A.2d 238
Cited Statutes: N.J. Stat. Ann. § 2A:31-5
Date: 06/01/2013

N.J. Stat. Ann. § 2A:31-5 (“[T]he jury may give such damages as they shall deem fair and just with reference to the pecuniary injuries resulting from such death, together with the hospital, medical and funeral expenses incurred for the deceased, to the persons entitled to any intestate personal property of the decedent.”)

Smith v. Whitaker, 160 N.J. 221, 234, 734 A.2d 243 (1999) (wrongful-death act provides recompense for losses suffered by survivors as a result of decedent’s death, but damages are “strictly limited” to pecuniary losses)

Johnson v. Dobrosky, 187 N.J. 594, 605-08, 902 A.2d 238, 245-46 (2006) (sets forth history of wrongful-death damages; measure of damages includes “loss of future financial contributions, that is, the Act attempts to replace the money that decedent would have contributed to his or her survivors had he lived”)

The calculation of those losses involves two basic determinations: is it probable that decedent would have contributed to the survivors and, if so, to what extent would contributions have been made?  In resolving those issues


the jury should . . . consider the various probabilities which, in the course of the years, might determine the pecuniary advantages which would accrue to the next of kin if the tragic event which gave rise to the action had not occurred: The normal life expectancy of the decedents; their physical, mental and moral characteristics; their likely earnings; . . . ; the life expectancy of the next of kin; […]