When someone’s reckless behavior leads to a fatal injury, the surviving family members may sue for both compensatory and punitive damages. However, punitive damages are only awarded in certain types of cases and when the defendant’s behavior meets a legal standard of culpability. Below we will discuss what punitive damages are and when they can be awarded:
Punitive Damages Defined
Punitive damages, sometimes called exemplary damages, are a monetary amount awarded to the plaintiff in a civil trial as a way to punish the defendant for especially egregious or reckless behavior and to deter similar conduct in the future. They are not intended to compensate the plaintiff for losses, as compensatory damages do. Instead, they are a way for the jury to express their disapproval and anger over the defendant’s actions. Punitive damages typically come into play in fatal injury cases when the defendant’s negligent or intentional actions show a disregard for human health and safety.
When Can Punitive Damages Be Awarded?
Punitive damages are only appropriate in certain types of civil cases involving fatal injuries. They are typically not awarded in cases involving accidental deaths or just simple negligence. Instead, they require that the defendant’s behavior meets a higher legal standard of culpability, such as gross negligence or intentional misconduct. The behavior usually has to involve things like malice, recklessness, violence, oppression, insult, or a conscious disregard for safety. Essentially, the defendant has to have known their actions were putting people at risk but proceeded anyway.
Punitive Damage Caps and State Laws
Although most states allow for punitive damages for reckless behavior leading to death, several states place caps on the amount that can be awarded. Some states also have higher standards than others for awarding punitive damages. For example, many states require “clear and convincing evidence” of reckless disregard for safety rather than just a “preponderance of evidence.” The laws can also differ between types of cases. Some states are more restrictive with medical malpractice cases versus product liability cases, for example.
Fatal Car Accident Lawsuits
Punitive damages are often requested and awarded in fatal car accident lawsuits, especially involving drunk or impaired driving or those who flee the scene of a crash. When a driver makes a conscious choice to get behind the wheel while intoxicated, fully aware of the risks this poses to human life, it usually meets the standard of reckless disregard required for punitive damages. Punitive damages in these cases both punish the driver as an example and send a message to deter others from driving drunk or high.
Medical Malpractice Wrongful Death Lawsuits
Punitive damages may also be awarded in some medical malpractice lawsuits involving a patient death. They are typically connected to allegations of deliberately reckless behaviors that disregard patient safety – like operating while intoxicated or performing procedures the doctor is unqualified for. However, punitive damages are rarer in medical malpractice cases than in other types of fatal injury lawsuits in many states.
Punitive damages serve to punish defendants who cause fatal injuries through egregiously reckless behaviors. They show that human life has value and demonstrates that gross negligence won’t be tolerated. If you think you’re entitled to claim for punitive damages, get in touch with our team at M Smith Law.
You can visit us at 15 Broad St #800, Boston, MA 02109.
Or, if you prefer, call now for a free consultation on (617) 263-0860.