Maybe you’ve heard of “punitive damages” as something that might be awarded by a court. However, these monetary damages can seem like a myth — they’re fairly rare, and not many people who aren’t lawyers understand when and how courts award them.
This blog article will explain what punitive damages are and outline when and how you can secure them in the wake of a car wreck in Texas. We’ll also offer tips on working with an attorney to get the compensation you deserve.
What Are Punitive Damages?
When a jury finds someone liable for causing harm, they can order that person to pay money to the victim in the form of damages. Most personal injury cases involve compensatory damages that compensate injured victims for medical costs, lost business, pain and suffering, and other losses.
However, when a jury feels that a defendant was especially reckless, irresponsible, or indifferent to human suffering, they can also award punitive damages. This money doesn’t compensate the victim for any specific economic losses. Instead, punitive damages serve two purposes: they punish the defendant for their extreme negligent behavior, and they also send a warning to others who might engage in similar negligence. For a victim to receive punitive damages after a car accident, the defendant who injured them needs to have been especially negligent or reckless.
The laws that determine punitive damages vary from state to state, and not all states even allow for punitive damages. In Texas, a plaintiff who asks for punitive damages must provide convincing and clear evidence to prove the defendant acted in malice, fraud, or gross negligence.
Drunk driving and road rage are two examples of the type of extreme reckless behavior that can lead to punitive damages. However, there are many other types of cases that can lead to punitive damages. Whether punitive damages are available really depends on the unique factors of your case.
When a jury decides whether to award punitive damages, they may consider factors that include:
- The specific situations of the parties involved
- The defendant’s culpability
- How much the wrongdoing offends the public’s sense of justice
- The defendant’s net worth
In Texas, a jury must reach a unanimous decision about the defendant’s liability and how much the defendant should pay in order for the plaintiff to be awarded punitive damages.
Challenges to Securing Punitive Damages
Getting punitive damages in Texas isn’t easy. In most injury cases, even when it’s clear who was at fault, the jury will consider compensatory damages to be enough to address the wrong that was done to the victim.
But just because punitive damages are rare doesn’t mean they’re not possible in your case — it just means that before you can receive them, you and your attorney will have to work hard to paint a clear picture of extreme negligence. And unlike some states, Texas allows juries to award punitive damages even in cases where the victim doesn’t receive economic damages.
If punitive damages are an option in your case, the best way to secure them will be to work with an experienced personal injury lawyer. A good injury attorney should be able to advise you about whether punitive damages are possible in your case, and they’ll also know how to present the clear and compelling evidence of extreme negligence that’s needed to get punitive damages.
Texas Punitive Damages Caps
Texas laws place caps on punitive damages, which means that the jury has limits on how much they can order the defendant to pay.
The cap for punitive damages in your case will depend on your compensatory damages, which can be economic or non-economic. Economic damages compensate lost funds (medical bills, income loss) while non-economic damages compensate lost quality of life (pain and suffering, emotional distress).
In Texas, punitive damage caps work as follows:
- If the court does not award the plaintiff economic damages, punitive damages are capped at $200,000.
- If the court does award economic damages, punitive damages are capped at two times the amount of economic damages plus an equal amount of non-economic damages (such as pain and suffering damages) up to a maximum of $750,000.
Crosley Law: Fighting for Injured Victims in San Antonio and Throughout Texas
At Crosley Law, we have an experienced team that brings a personalized and focused approach to personal injury claims. When you hire us, we’ll help you identify and prove all of your damages, including punitive damages. We fight aggressively for every client and tailor our approach to meet your unique circumstances.
If you’ve been injured or lost a loved one and need help understanding your options, contact Crosley Law to schedule your free initial consultation. Just complete our online contact form or call us at 210-LAW-3000/210-529-3000.
The content provided here is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice on any subject.
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