If you were injured in a truck accident, car accident, or another personal injury incident in Bedford, Texas, you might wonder about the damages you can receive for your claim. You probably know you are entitled to compensation for your medical expenses and lost wages. You may even be able to recover money for your pain and suffering.
But is that enough? Shouldn’t the responsible party be punished for their actions? Punitive damages may provide for additional financial recovery. However, you must first be able to show your right to these damages. Here is what you need to know about punitive damages in Texas.
Damages In Personal Injury Cases
Courts award damages to plaintiffs who win their injury case. Damages usually represent the economic and non-economic losses a claimant suffers because of the defendant’s actions.
Economic damages can be traced to an economic loss, such as property damage, medical expenses, or lost income. Non-economic damages are not tied directly to an economic loss but still compensate the victim. They include pain, suffering, mental anguish, and emotional distress.
Most damages are meant to compensate the victim. However, punitive damages are intended to punish the defendant.
The Purpose Of Punitive Damages
Punitive damages, or exemplary damages as they are called in Texas, provide some form of accountability in civil cases. In criminal cases, punishment can take the form of incarceration, fines, probation, or community service. In civil cases, the only way to punish a defendant is to make them pay damages to the plaintiff. Exemplary damages also deter similar actions in the future.
When Are Punitive Damages Awarded In Texas Cases?
Exemplary damages are not available in all personal injury cases in Texas. §41.003 of the Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code sets out the requirements that must be met before a jury can award punitive damages. The victim must prove through clear and convincing evidence that the harm they suffered resulted from gross negligence, malice, or fraud.
- Gross negligence – The defendant has a specific intent to cause substantial injury or harm to the victim.
- Malice – An act or omission that either:
- Involves an extreme degree of risk, considering the likelihood and magnitude of potential harm objectively represents an extreme degree of risk.
- Involves the defendant’s actual, subjective awareness of the risk involved and represents a conscious indifference to the safety or welfare of others.
- Fraud – All fraud other than constructive fraud (so the defendant must have known they were committing fraud).
Additionally, the jury must unanimously determine the defendant is responsible for the plaintiff’s injuries and decide the specific amount of punitive damages to award. Jurors are issued specific instructions regarding the award of punitive damages in cases where they are sought.
Examples Of Punitive Damages In Personal Injury Cases
In personal injury cases where exemplary damages are awarded, the basis is usually on malice or gross negligence. Under these theories, the victim does not have to show the defendant actually intended to hurt them but only that the defendant was aware of the risk and still decided to do the thing that led to the victim’s harm. For example, a Texas jury awarded the family of a 6-year-old boy $45.2 million in punitive damages against Alex Jones after he falsely claimed the Sandy Hook shooting in which the boy was killed was a hoax.
Punitive damages are sometimes awarded in DUI accidents to punish drunk drivers. They may also be awarded in cases in which employers have intentionally violated or ignored safety measures. For example, one Texas jury awarded $500 million in punitive damages to a woman who was severely injured after she was run over by a Union Pacific train after showing the company failed to train and follow safety procedures that could have prevented the accident.
What Evidence Must The Jury Consider When Deciding The Amount Of Punitive Damages?
Jurors must consider the following evidence when determining the amount of punitive damages to award:
- The nature of the defendant’s wrongful action
- The defendant’s character
- The defendant’s degree of culpability
- The sensibilities and circumstances of the parties involved
- The extent to which the wrongful action offends the public’s sense of decency and justice
- The defendant’s net worth
The plaintiff can demand evidence of the defendant’s net worth, but the defendant can ask to limit this information until the plaintiff proves they can likely meet their burden of showing they are eligible for punitive damages.
Damage Caps On Exemplary Damages
Exemplary damages may be capped in personal injury cases. Generally, the maximum that can be awarded in a personal injury case is $750,000 or two times the amount of economic damages plus an amount equal to non-economic damages, whichever is greater. In cases where economic damages are not awarded, the maximum is typically $200,000.
Damage caps can be waived in some cases, including when a crime is committed that leads to the victim’s injury, such as drunk driving.
How To Seek Punitive Damages In Texas
Cases involving punitive damages are often complicated. It can be difficult to meet the heightened burden of proving your case by clear and convincing evidence. Punitive damages can greatly increase the value of a case.
For these reasons, it is recommended that you work with a lawyer who has experience in cases involving punitive damages.
A lawyer can review the circumstances of your case and explain whether you may be eligible for punitive damages.
A lawyer can also take prompt steps to preserve evidence and your right to pursue these damages.
Texas law generally limits your right to file a lawsuit to two years from the date of your injury, so it’s important that you do not delay in contacting an experienced personal injury lawyer who can get to work on your case.