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Can a wrongful death lawsuit result in a punitive damages award?

On Behalf of | Jul 10, 2024 | Wrongful Death

When someone dies unexpectedly in Ohio, the people who love them suffer. It can take years to come to terms with an unexpected loss. People often struggle with intense feelings of guilt and grief when the way they lose their loved one is unexpected and worse, preventable.

If a business or another person is clearly at fault for a recent tragedy, the people left behind when they die may want justice. A wrongful death lawsuit allows surviving family members to seek compensation for the negative impact a loved one’s death has had on their lives. Some people want to go further than that. They want to punish the other party for the impact of their actions.

Punitive damages are funds awarded not as compensation for losses but rather as a penalty for the party at fault. Do the Ohio civil courts award punitive damages in wrongful death lawsuits?

Punitive damages are exceptionally rare

Typically, what people request in wrongful death lawsuits is compensation for economic and non-economic damages. The settlement they receive is a reflection of the impact the tragedy has had on them. Ohio state law generally allows families to include all economic losses in the amount sought after a tragedy. Non-economic losses are subject to limit. People can receive up to $250,000 or three times the economic damages awarded in the lawsuit, whichever is greater.

Punitive damages are different. They specifically serve as a form of punishment for the party at fault for the tragedy. The courts impose punitive damages only in particularly egregious scenarios. The plaintiffs requesting punitive damages often need proof of intentional malice or proof that someone acted without regard for human life and safety.

The burden of proof in such cases is substantially higher than in a basic wrongful death lawsuit. In standard wrongful death lawsuits, plaintiffs only need to show that a preponderance of the evidence supports their claim that the other party caused the death through misconduct or negligence. Those asking for punitive damages must prove the defendant disregarded human life or acted maliciously.

While it is possible to pursue punitive damages, not every family is in a position to request them. Learning more about Ohio’s unique wrongful death laws can help grieving families to develop realistic expectations about compensation in the wake of tragedy.