What Does Wanton Disregard Mean In Wrongful Death Law?

A wrongful death attorney who's pursuing a claim can advance the case for a client based on one of three reasons. The most common argument is negligence, and the two less common ones are recklessness and malice. Negligence covers unintended consequences of actions or inaction's. Recklessness involves deliberate actions that weren't meant to harm, and malice covers cases where the harm was intentional.

While this structure covers the vast majority of cases, there is a gray area between intended and unintended events. Frequently, a form of negligence or recklessness known as wanton disregard fills this legal gap. Let's take a look at what wanton disregard is and why a wrongful death law firm might use it as the basis of a claim.

Defining Wanton Disregard

Actions of this type tend to be intentional, but they involve what is fundamentally negligence. In other words, the at-fault party wasn't aiming to hurt, but they disregarded something a reasonable person would consider extremely dangerous.

Suppose a contracting crew was cleaning out an abandoned building. In the process of doing the clean-out, the crew encounters a spot where the floor looks sketchy, and everyone there says it looks bad. The boss orders a crew member to cross the area of the floor to grab something valuable that can be salvaged. That is to say, the boss disregards the hazard in telling his team member to do something. If this hypothetical clean-out contractor died because the floor collapsed and they fell, that might be the basis of a wrongful death claim.

Why Wanton Disregard Matters

Acts of wanton disregard are considered forms of gross negligence. This stands in contrast to ordinary negligence, such as forgetting to fix a handrail or not salting a sidewalk on an icy day.

From the perspective of someone pursuing a wrongful death claim, the big difference is that the damages awarded in the case should increase. If the matter goes to trial, there is also the threat of the jury awarding punitive damages. This is compensation over and above the direct losses in the case, such as medical bills, funeral expenses, lost wages, pain and suffering, and loss of companionship. Punitive damages are meant to deter others from engaging in the same conduct as the defendant had.

Claiming Wanton Disregard

When your wrongful death attorney files the claim, they will state which of the defendant's actions they believe rise above ordinary negligence. The insurance company will then have to decide if they want to pay out the additional compensation requested or risk a trial where greater punitive damages may be awarded.