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What is Wantonness?

            “Wantonness” is a legal term that can be applicable in many different types of civil cases. A definition enacted into law in 1987 by the Alabama Legislature defined it as “conduct which is carried on with a reckless or conscious disregard of the rights or safety of others.” 

            It is often used as equivalent to recklessness. 

            Wantonness can be an issue in many diverse types of cases, including car wrecks, tractor trailer accidents, slip and fall cases, industrial or construction accidents, or even cases in which personal injury or death is not involved. For example, in one of our law firm’s trials, a jury, earlier this year, determined that a funeral home had committed wantonness in mishandling cremains of a family member after a cremation had been arranged for by our client, and returned a $12 million verdict in our client’s favor.

            The legal implications of establishing wantonness can be very important. One aspect that sometimes occurs in the car wreck context is that an injured plaintiff who is found to be guilty of “contributory negligence” can nevertheless recover from a defendant if that defendant is guilty of wantonness. 

            Another important aspect is that a jury who finds a defendant guilty of wantonness has discretion to award punitive damages, which are intended to punish a defendant for aggravated wrongdoing and deter the defendant and others from the same or similar conduct in the future. 

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