man holding casket funeral pallbearerUnlike regular compensatory damages, punitive damages are not directly related to a victim's injury or effects. They are a particular category of damages intended to punish the defendant in a Kentucky wrongful death lawsuit and deter them from making the same mistake again. Punitive damages can be worth several times more than the value of economic damages and pain and suffering, so it's worth determining whether they apply to your case.

How Much Are Punitive Damages Worth in Wrongful Death Cases?

The amount and limits of punitive damages vary from state to state. In Kentucky, they are commonly called exemplary damages, and there is no limit on the amount you can collect. Punitive damages are never included in settlements; you will have to win your case in court to be awarded exemplary damages.

The damages in a wrongful death case are technically meant to punish the defendant rather than compensate the victim. However, punitive damages—like all other types of damages in these cases—are awarded to the family or estate of the victim.

What Do I Need to Prove to Get Punitive Damages?

Most personal injury cases are based on the theory of negligence. The legal doctrine of negligence arises when a person's actions or failure to act with reasonable care causes harm to someone else. This could be a failure to make repairs promptly or failing to notice a dangerous condition on their property.

However, the law understands that some forms of negligence are worse than others. Gross negligence, or an extreme breach of the duty of care, is used as the standard for an award of punitive damages. Some common grounds for punitive damages include intentional actions (such as the commission of a crime), acts against the vulnerable (such as nursing home abuse), or negligence by a highly-trained individual (such as medical malpractice).

Whether a person's actions constitute gross negligence depends on certain factors, such as:

  • Whether the defendant had a total lack of regard for safety
  • Whether the defendant engaged in reckless or risky conduct
  • Whether the defendant demonstrated a similar lack of care toward victims in the past
  • Whether the defendant knew the victim could potentially suffer a fatal injury
  • The degree of carelessness that led to the accident
  • The severity of the victim's injuries
  • The number of opportunities the defendant had to prevent the cause of injury
  • How long the willful misconduct went on
  • Whether the defendant took any corrective action to stop the misconduct
  • How many people involved knew about the misconduct
  • Whether the defendant made any attempt to conceal the misconduct
  • Whether the defendant profited from the misconduct

Is it Difficult to Prove Gross Negligence?

As the injured party, it's up to you to gather evidence to prove that gross negligence caused your loved one's death. It isn't enough to claim gross negligence and hope the judge agrees—you need to be able to show that the defendant's conduct rose to a level above and beyond a simple lack of care.

In Kentucky, punitive damages are awarded if the injured party has clear and convincing evidence that the defendant acted with one of the following:

  • Malice. Malice can be either a direct intention by the defendant to cause injury to a plaintiff or a defendant's despicable conduct likely to cause harm through a willful and conscious disregard for the rights or safety of others. A plaintiff does not need to prove a defendant's motives or evil mental intent, only that the defendant intended the consequences that were reasonably certain to occur from the wrongful conduct.
  • Oppression. Any "despicable conduct that subjects a person to cruel and unjust hardship in conscious disregard of that person's rights" may be considered oppression. Unlike malice, oppression does not a defendant's require willful ill intent.
  • Fraud. To meet the definition of fraud, the defendant must have perpetrated "an intentional misrepresentation, deceit, or concealment of a material fact known to the defendant with the intention of depriving a person of property or legal rights or otherwise causing injury."

It can be challenging to meet the legal requirements necessary to obtain punitive damages. It will take extensive evidence, documentation, and witness testimony to prove that the defendant's actions were beyond ordinary negligence. If you fail to meet the standard of proof, the court may not look favorably on you—especially if the judge suspects you requested punitive damages without any basis for the claim.

Let a Wrongful Death Attorney Answer Your Questions

Wrongful death settlements in Kentucky are dependent on the facts of each individual case, and it will take a skilled legal representative to get all that you're owed. It would be best if you spoke to a lawyer as soon as possible to prevent an insurance company from taking advantage of you and your grieving family.

At Gray and White Law, we take all legal matters off your plate while you take the time you need to heal—and we don't charge anything unless your case is won. Contact us today or call 1-888-450-4456 to schedule a free case consultation or read through our complimentary guide, Critical Information to Know Before Filing a Wrongful Death Lawsuit in Kentucky.

Matthew L. White
Connect with me
Founder & Partner of Louisville Personal Injury Law Firm Gray & White Law