There are two types of damage awards that can be doled out to plaintiffs who win their wrongful death lawsuits. They are compensatory and punitive damages. There are limits on compensatory damages, based on how much the person who died might have generated in income for the rest of their lives. The wildcard in wrongful death lawsuits, therefore, comes with punitive damages.
The idea behind punitive damages is for juries who determine there was a liability owed by defendants to get the message that they need to change their behavior or practices so that those things won't occur again. It was never really intended to be anything to help plaintiffs all that much, and maybe that's where a part of what happens these days has come from.
You regularly hear of punitive damages that will never have a chance of being paid. For instance, the O. J. Simpson case had the jury, which wasn't unanimous and therefore is another problem with some of these types of cases, awarding two families nearly $33 million dollars when everyone knew there was no possibility it would ever be paid. And it's not close to being paid, and never will be, and thus it almost ends up looking like a frivolous lawsuit. Also, it's the type of case where it looks like the damages were awarded more on perception rather than any merits of the case, especially since he was acquitted of murder charges. The same thing applies to Robert Blake, who also got hit with a high punitive damage award that he will never be able to pay.
It's because of these types of awards that some states have put into place limits on just how much plaintiffs can be awarded. Ohio has a limit of $250,000 per person for damages. Maine limits awards to $400,000. Alaska limits damages to $500,000 or 3 times whatever the compensatory damages are. You can find a list of damage awards around the country here.