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How are punitive damages divided in a case of wrongful death?

On Behalf of | Nov 28, 2023 | Wrongful Death

In Oregon, courts can award both compensatory and punitive damages when a wrongful death occurs. Compensatory damages reimburse actual losses, such as medical expenses and lost wages. On the other hand, punitive damages serve the purpose of punishing the defendant for their reckless acts and dissuading similar conduct.

Seeking punitive damages in a wrongful death case

The issue of punitive damages often comes up during the settlement process. The representative of the deceased person, acting as the plaintiff, and the defendant agree on the terms, which may include punitive damages. Both parties usually negotiate these terms with the help of their attorneys or a mediator.

Ultimately, the goal is to settle the dispute without needing to go to trial.

Awarding the compensatory amount to different groups

A specific statute under Oregon law governs the distribution of punitive damages in a settlement. According to this statute, here’s how this type of compensation is divided by the court:

  • Thirty percent of the punitive damages go to the party who filed the lawsuit. This portion also covers attorney’s fees, which cannot exceed 20 percent of the total punitive damages.
  • Sixty percent is paid to the Attorney General for deposit into the Criminal Injuries Compensation Account to assist crime victims. If a public entity filed the lawsuit, this portion goes to their general fund.
  • The remaining ten percent is deposited in the State Court Facilities and Security Account for maintaining court facilities and security.

Punitive damages serve not only this specific case but also support a broader group of crime victims. This distribution applies unless all parties, including the Department of Justice, agree otherwise. An alternative distribution is also possible if the judgment specifies differently.

Supporting those left behind

In a wrongful death case, the court awards damages to the family members to help make up for what they’ve lost, like companionship and financial support. But the settlement not only aids the beneficiaries of the deceased. It also serves as a deterrent. It sends a strong message to the defendant and the broader community, discouraging this kind of crime and promoting greater care in the future.