If a Jury Finds a Wrongful Death Defendant was Grossly Negligent, Can They Award Any Amount They Want?
If your family is filing a wrongful death lawsuit, you likely have this question. The answer depends on your case, but juries can indeed increase damages awarded to plaintiffs if gross negligence was found in the defendants’ harmful actions or inactions leading to the victim’s death.
What Is Gross Negligence?
As for what is gross negligence, means someone died because of a defendant’s willful act or severe negligence. This wrongful death was no accident or fluke, but rather due to a voluntary, willful, conscious, and reckless disregard of the plaintiff’s duty to use reasonable care to protect persons and property.
That is far more extreme than negligence alone, which constitutes the simple failure to use such reasonable care.
When basic negligence is found in court, the financial award is deemed compensatory and is calculated to make up for actual dollar costs of the victim’s death, such as medical bills and lost wages, and employee benefits.
With gross negligence, a defendant’s failure is particularly shameful in its deliberate if not malicious disregard for others’ safety. Finding such gross negligence in a wrongful death lawsuit adds to the amount of money that a jury can award to the survivors of a person who died as a result.
How Much Are Gross Negligence Payments?
Awarding payments to survivors based on gross negligence is a subjective thing. Such damages are considered “punitive” in nature, meaning a jury is not awarding money based on actual financial costs to the plaintiffs, but rather as a way of punishing the defendant, seeking a greater degree of justice, and warning others not to commit the same atrocities.
Such punitive or exemplary damages (to make an example out of a grossly negligent defendant) are available in wrongful death lawsuits in Texas and some other states. Rewarding such damages requires a plaintiff to prove reckless misconduct by the defendant — who may even face a separate criminal charge.
Just because damages for gross negligence in a wrongful death lawsuit are subjective and are not confined to actual financial costs doesn’t mean they are open-ended or unlimited. A jury must determine an amount commensurate with the gross negligence — meaning, of corresponding size or degree.
Some States Cap Gross Negligence Awards
That, too, can be difficult to determine, but the sky is not the limit. Some state laws put a cap on gross negligence awards. In California, for instance, California Civil Code 3333.2 places a cap or limit of $250,000 on non-economic (punitive) damages in a medical malpractice case.
In Texas, state law caps punitive damages for gross negligence at the greater of $200,000 or twice the amount of economic damages plus an amount equal to non-economic damages (for such things as pain and suffering) up to $750,000.
Get an Experienced Wrongful Death Attorney
As you can see, gaining payments for gross negligence in a wrongful death lawsuit requires a high degree of proof and a thorough understanding of how a state’s punitive damages work. Your family should get an experienced wrongful death lawyer, which the Willis Law Firm can provide.
Contact us today for free legal advice and a free consultation about your wrongful death lawsuit claim.