Legal Memorandum: Evidence in a Wrongful Death Action

Issue: Under Wyoming law, is evidence of a decedent’s good or bad physical, mental and moral character admissible in a wrongful death action relevant to damages?

Area of Law: Litigation & Procedure, Personal Injury & Negligence
Keywords: Wrongful death action; Damages; Evidence of character
Jurisdiction: Wyoming
Cited Cases: 494 P.2d 249; 3 P.2d 105; 607 P.2d 43; 314 P.2d 948; 770 P.2d 698; 683 P.2d 227; 694 P.2d 101; 442 P.2d 864; 24 P. 616
Cited Statutes: Wyo. Stat. § 1-38-102(a); Wyo. Stat. § 1-38-102(c); Wyo. R. Evid. 405
Date: 02/01/2001

           A Wyoming wrongful death action is brought in the name of the personal representative of the decedent, Wyo. Stat. § 1-38-102(a) (1988), but the damages are awarded to “[e]very person for whose benefit such action is brought,” id. § 1-38-102(c).  In Butler v. Halstead ex rel. Colley, 770 P.2d 698, 700 (Wyo. 1989), the supreme court held this included not only the surviving child but also the parents, siblings, and even the grandparents of the decedent.  The measure of damages is always the loss to the beneficiaries.  For example, in proving loss of support, a plaintiff must show not only what the decedent might have earned during his normal lifetime, but what the plaintiff would have received from those earnings:

The criterion of damages, or one of them, is not what the decedent would have earned, but the amount which the survivors probably failed, by reason of the death, to receive out of these earnings.  The earnings are not an element of damages, but simply evidence to be taken into consideration, in the proper case, to determine and fix one of the elements.


Coliseum Motor Co. v. Hester, 43 Wyo. 298, 3 P.2d 105, 112 […]

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