Legally, financial restitution also aims to prevent similar incidents from happening in the future. A few decades ago, aviation disasters occurred once or twice every year, Rose said. Today, plane crashes are rare, in part because of the legal pressure to comply with safety regulations.
No one has studied exactly how compensation affects the grieving process, but research suggests that people fare better psychologically if they feel like they’ve gotten a fair shake from the legal system, said Camille Wortman, a psychologist who specializes in traumatic bereavement at Stony Brook University in New York.
In her 30 years of experience with wrongful death cases, Wortman has seen, time and again, that financial compensation gives family members a sense that justice has been served and that the lives of their loved ones have been recognized.
"People want it acknowledged that something important has been taken away and if people had been doing their job right, it wouldn't have happened," she said. "That can be healing."
Wortman has been repeatedly surprised to see that people don't usually buy mansions and yachts after receiving financial compensation for the traumatic loss of family members. Instead, they often devote some of the money to helping others who have been through something similar or to prevent the same kind of thing from happening elsewhere.
In one case in the late 1990s, a railroad company was deemed negligent for failing to install warning lights and crossing gates, which resulted in the deaths of several teenagers in Ohio. The parents of one of the boys used their $5 million settlement to start a foundation that promotes railroad safety and awareness.
When people lose wrongful death cases, on the other hand, the emotional results can be devastating.
"A negative verdict can really be a slap in the face to people who have already been knocked down," Wortman said. "It's the court saying, 'Your daughter's life meant nothing.' That's the message being conveyed."