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Can a wrongful death suit cover punitive damages?

by | Oct 7, 2016 | Wrongful Death |

It varies from state to state, but in Montana the short answer is yes.

Basically, there are two types of lawsuits when someone dies or is killed: criminal and civil.

  • A criminal case involves the government. The government charges an individual and seeks to punish that person. This involves a crime, for example murder or manslaughter. The burden of proof is much higher in a criminal case (beyond a reasonable doubt). The “damages” are not monetary but rather jail time for the guilty. It is extremely rare for medical professionals to be charged criminally.
  • A civil case or civil tort, can involve an individual or an organization and pertains to the “rights and duties” that they legally owe each other. The plaintiff need only prove a preponderance of evidence in these cases. Negligence and medical malpractice fall into this category. The damages that are awarded are monetary. Instead of going to prison an organization could lose millions of dollars and a medical professional, for example, could lose his or her practice privileges.

The types of losses that can be awarded in a civil case are either compensatory or punitive. Compensative are “actual damages” or losses of income or losses due to injury. Punitive damages, as the name suggests, are intended to punish. Punitive damages are awarded in cases where the defendant has been found to be reckless or negligent.

Individual drivers found to be reckless or negligent, for example a drunk driver, can be sued. So can manufacturers.

The manufacturer of a defective firearm for example, could be sued for both compensative damages if the firearm malfunctioned and damaged property or caused bodily injury. This same manufacturer could be sued for punitive damages if it was proved that the manufacturer was aware of the malfunction yet did nothing about it.

In fact, every state except Louisiana allows for plaintiff to sue a manufacturer for punitive damages.

If you or a loved one has suffered a wrongful death or loss due to reckless or negligent behavior it is in your interest to consult with an attorney in your area who is experienced in these areas.


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