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Are punitive damages available in Indiana wrongful death suits?

On Behalf of | Sep 7, 2023 | Wrongful Death

A wrongful death lawsuit is a legal action initiated to recover damages inspired by the loss of a loved one caused by their untimely, preventable death. To pursue a wrongful death lawsuit in Indiana, it is generally necessary to have proof of either actions or inactions on the part of an individual or business that has contributed to the cause of an individual’s passing.

A lawsuit can seek damages for the losses that the deceased’s estate or family has suffered because of the death. Those damages often include medical and funeral costs and lost wages, as well as reimbursement for the financial impact of the loss of someone’s companionship and support. It is also possible to be awarded punitive damages under very specific circumstances.

Putative damages are different than other damages

Most of the damages that people claim in a wrongful death lawsuit have invoices, bills and paystubs to help validate their value. People will have financial records of what someone earned before dying and what costs their passing generated. Even non-economic damages, like someone’s training and care, have real-world values to use to establish their cost.

Unlike economic and non-economic damages which directly relate to the impact of someone’s death, punitive damages are not tethered to any practical loss. Instead, punitive damages are a form of punishment imposed on the party at fault. There have historically been cases in which juries award individuals inappropriate amounts of punitive damages, which Indiana actively prevents in its state code.

Punitive damages are only possible in cases involving willful misconduct or gross negligence. Even then, state law limits how much the courts can award in punitive damages. The courts can award up to $50,000 or three times the total amount of compensatory damages awarded as part of a suit. Plaintiffs should receive the greater of the two amounts.

Despite limitations and restrictions on claims for punitive damages in Indiana, it can still be a smart choice for people to look into punitive damages if they already intend to pursue a wrongful death lawsuit against the party that they believe is responsible for a loved one’s passing. Seeking legal guidance is a good way to begin.