Wanton Disregard For Safety In Wrongful Death Law

When a wrongful death lawyer examines a case, one of the biggest questions that often come up is just how far the negligence involved in it went. The most extreme form of negligence recognized in the American legal system is known as wanton disregard. Here's what it means and how it might factor into your case.

The Scale of Negligence

The baseline form of negligence that would lead to a successful wrongful death claim or suit is what's called ordinary negligence. Negligence is considered ordinary if it represents more of a lapse than an overt act or a case where the person should have known better. For example, suppose a person slipped on an untreated sidewalk on their head, cracked their skull, and died from cranial bleeding. A reasonable person wouldn't assume the property owner meant to kill the person, but they'd also expect a property owner to take care of their sidewalk.

Gross negligence is the next rung up the ladder. Negligence is gross when the person should have known better. A landlord who doesn't fix a handrail in a tall apartment complex, for example, still didn't knowingly act in a way that sent someone to their death.

Wanton Disregard

Finally, we arrive at wanton disregard. Suppose a store manager ordered an employee to climb into a garbage compactor to clear an obstruction. The manager's actions are considered knowing because a reasonable person would not have a non-professional service a potentially dangerous machine.

If the employee were killed, the manager's actions would be considered a form of wanton disregard. Employee safety, in the eyes of the law, should be more important than fixing the compactor.

How It Factors into Cases

The risk that an at-fault party will be held liable for punitive damages goes up dramatically as the nature of the negligence in question becomes worse. In negotiations, this is a threat that a wrongful death attorney will hang out there to encourage the defendant and their insurance carrier to settle the matter.

If the case goes to court, the plaintiff will have the right to seek punitive damages. That means a jury could award compensation over and above things like medical bills, lost wages, future earning potential, and loss of companionship. The jury could decide to make a moral point and award damages just to punish the defendant. Such awards are meant to reflect society's belief that wanton disregard for safety will not be tolerated.

For more information, contact a wrongful death attorney.