There are several types of damage awards the courts can award survivors in a wrongful death case, including both economic and non-economic damages. Each state has its own laws regarding the types and amounts of damages that courts may award in a wrongful death case; some states allow victims to recover wrongful death punitive damages, while others do not.
If you are party to a wrongful death claim and have questions about the types of damages that you may be able to collect, make sure to address your concerns with an attorney. If you need counsel in PA or NJ, you are welcomed to call Cordisco & Saile at 215-642-2335.
What exactly are punitive damages?
Most damage awards in wrongful death cases are meant to compensate the victims for their losses, be they financial or emotional losses. This is not the case with punitive damages. Like the name suggests, punitive damages were developed as a means to punish a wrongdoer for serious misconduct. Courts do not award punitive damages specifically to benefit the victims, per se, but rather to discourage the defendant from future wrongdoing.
Punitive damage awards, developed by common law, have historically been rare, but they have been becoming increasingly common since the 1960s. Even still, in order for a court to consider awarding the victim with punitive damages, the defendant’s behavior must have been particularly malicious, intentional, or reckless. Moreover, it is up to the survivors’ attorney to prove the applicability of punitive damages to the courts.
Can I seek punitive damages for a wrongful death case in PA or NJ?
Our firm handles wrongful death cases in both PA and NJ. Unfortunately for survivors in New Jersey, NJ law does not allow victims to recover punitive damages in a wrongful death case. As per the state’s Wrongful Death Act in N.J.S.A. 2A:31-4(5), the only damages beneficiaries can recover are pecuniary damages. The law states that the “purpose of the award is the replacement of services that the decedent would have rendered and nothing more.”
Pennsylvania statutes, on the other hand, do allow victims to recover punitive damages in a wrongful death case. If the survivors can prove that the defendant’s behavior not only caused their loved one’s wrongful death, but that it was egregious and extremely reckless, the courts may decide to award punitive damages.
What are some examples of conduct that may merit punitive damages?
If you are a beneficiary in a wrongful death claim filed in Pennsylvania, you may be wondering whether or not your case will qualify for punitive damages. Were the defendant’s actions reckless or malicious enough to warrant an award for punitive damages in your case?
Each district court, each jury, and each judge has different tendencies; some are more apt that others to award punitive damages. In most cases where the defendant committed acts of violence such as murder, the courts will readily award punitive damages to the family.
Many potential situations could merit punitive damages. Your attorney will be able to review the circumstances of your loved one’s death and tell you if your case is a good candidate for them.
Is there a cap for a wrongful death damage award?
There is no settlement award limit that the court can order for a wrongful death case in either Pennsylvania or New Jersey. This means that you can fully recover all of your current and future economic losses associated with the loss of your loved one.
There is a caveat to damage awards caps with each state that you should be aware of, though. As aforementioned, NJ does not allow victims to recover punitive damages in a wrongful death case, but it also bars victims from recovering damages for emotional distress. The law limits the amount of emotional damages you can recover.
(The exception to this rule is if you witnessed your loved one’s death and suffered emotional trauma because of it. In this case, you would need to file a separate claim to recover emotional damages. This is a very complicated area of the law, which your lawyer will be able to advise you about accordingly.)
And while PA does not impose a general cap on wrongful death settlement awards, it does impose a cap on the amount of punitive damages that can be awarded. Specifically, the maximum amount of punitive damages a court can award is two times your compensatory damages. So, for example, if your settlement for compensatory damages totaled $100,000, Pennsylvania law caps the punitive damages for your case at $200,000.
How do I maximize my wrongful death settlement?
There is no monetary award that will ever be able to undue the hurt and loss you feel after losing your loved one in an untimely death. Even still, there are a lot of financial considerations to make in the aftermath of the loss, and you will need to plan for how to handle future needs for you and your family. Ensuring you receive adequate compensation in your loved one’s wrongful death case can certainly help lessen the financial burden.
For any wrongful death case, it is highly advisable to have an attorney assess your case, determine the value of your claim, and then chart a plan to help you maximize your final award.