Are Punitive Damages Recoverable in Wrongful Death Cases?

By Chris Dixon


In most wrongful death cases, the family members of a victim are eligible to recover compensatory damages, but in some states, punitive damages can be included in a settlement. Punitive damages are less common with wrongful death cases and not eligible to be recovered in most states, but in more severe wrongful death cases can be awarded by a judge to offset tremendous harm or losses. If you recently lost someone close to you in an accident caused by another person and are wondering if punitive damages are recoverable for your wrongful death case, consulting an experienced wrongful death lawyer about your case can provide a potential outcome and offer a personalized plan to ensure that the most damages are recovered for the victim’s pain and suffering.

What are Punitive Damages?

Punitive damages shouldn’t be confused with compensatory damages. Most cases are awarded compensation for medical expenses, pain and suffering, property damage, lost wages, and loss of affection, which are considered compensatory damages. However, in some states, punitive damages can be awarded in a wrongful death lawsuit. Punitive damages are more likely to be awarded for a criminal wrongful death case rather than a civil case, as the sole purpose of punitive damages is to serve as a punishment for the responsible party’s serious negligence.

If punitive damages are awarded in a wrongful death case, the amount that is recoverable is limited by the Punitive Damages Standards Act which, “establishes a standard for liability for punitive damages, raises the burden of proof to clear and convincing evidence, allows a bifurcated trial on the question of whether the defendant is liable for punitive damages, limits the amount of a punitive damages award to twice the amount of the plaintiff’s actual compensatory damages, limits vicarious liability for punitive damages, and precludes imposition of punitive damages when a product or service was approved by a government agency or complies with government regulations.”

Laws regarding wrongful death cases and punitive damages vary from state to state, which requires extensive knowledge of a state’s laws. If you are unsure whether your wrongful death case is eligible to recover punitive damages, hiring an experienced lawyer to represent your case provides support for your case and makes the wrongful death process easier to understand.

What Types of Damages Can You Recover for Wrongful Death?

Aside from standard compensatory damages such as medical expenses, property damage, and pain and suffering, wrongful death cases can generally recover reimbursement for funeral and burial experiences, loss of consortium, and loss of income that surviving family members have experienced because of the accident with a valid claim. If the family of the victim files a wrongful death lawsuit, they could be eligible to recover a higher amount of compensatory damages, and in some wrongful death cases, punitive damages. Punitive damages are monetary amounts that are awarded by a judge when the compensatory amount offered isn’t adequate, and the punishment for the responsible party’s negligence doesn’t seem severe enough.

How is a Wrongful Death Settlement Determined?

Compensatory damages are divided into two categories: economic and non-economic. Economic damages are damages that have a price tag such as medical expenses, lost wages, property damage, and other out-of-pocket expenses that stemmed from the accident, whereas non-economic damages are non-tangible harms and losses such as pain and suffering and loss of affection. When a settlement is calculated, the total economic damages are added up and multiplied by a number between 1-5 depending on the severity of the accident. Generally, with wrongful death cases, the number used will be 4 or 5. The resulting total from this calculation is a settlement for economic and non-economic damages caused in the accident.

If a wrongful death lawsuit is filed, and punitive damages are recoverable, the amount that is awarded is solely decided by the judge assigned to the case. It’s important to keep in mind that not every state allows victims to recover punitive damages, and in states that do, the amount that is awarded is limited to two times the amount of the victims’ compensatory damages. On average, the amount for punitive damages is at or around $60,000. In 2005, the average amount awarded for punitive damages was $64,000. If you are unsure whether you can recover punitive damages for your wrongful death case, it’s essential to consult a lawyer about your case and determine whether you should file a lawsuit and seek punitive damages, or file a claim and recover compensatory damages for the victim’s pain and suffering.

How Can a Lawyer Help Recover Damages for my Wrongful Death Case?

The legal system is complex and can be difficult to understand without adequate legal knowledge. If you lost someone in a terrible accident that was caused by another person’s negligence, it’s crucial to speak with a wrongful death lawyer about your case and have a personalized plan developed for recovering damages. Most lawyers use a contingency plan so that clients won’t have to worry about paying for their services until a settlement is recovered, and can offer other types of support during this trying time. If you are interested in learning more about whether punitive damages are recoverable in wrongful death cases,
contact the Dixon Injury Firm today to discuss your case and see how our Wrongful Death Lawyers can help with your case.

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