Maybe you’ve heard of “punitive damages” as something that might be awarded by a court. However, punitive damages, also known as exemplary 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. These can be broken into more specific types of damage, such as economic damages for medical costs and lost business. Non-economic damages for pain and suffering and other losses are other examples.
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 such conduct.
For a victim to receive punitive damages after a car accident, the defendant who injured them needs to have been especially negligent or reckless, known in legal terms as gross negligence.
The laws that determine punitive damages vary from state to state, and not all states even allow for punitive damages. According to Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code (Texas law for punitive damage guidelines), a victim who asks for punitive damages must provide convincing and clear evidence to prove the defendant acted in malice (bad intention), fraud, or gross negligence.
When and How Exemplary Damages Are Awarded
Drunk driving and road rage are just two examples of extreme reckless behavior that can lead to punitive damages. There are many other types of cases that may lead to them as well. Whether punitive damages will be awarded really depends on the unique factors of your case.
Some punitive damages cases can come from places you would never expect. Although drunk driving and road rage are prime examples, sometimes simple negligence can turn into gross negligence when you least expect it.
For example, in the case of a 16-year-old client and his family, gross negligence turned his trip to a trampoline park into a life-changing injury. After suffering a complicated brain injury due to a hole in a trampoline, the teenager’s family, represented by Tom Crosley, sought punitive damages against the trampoline park that changed their child’s life forever. After a long-fought trial, the jury sided with the family and awarded $6 million in punitive damages to the trampoline park on top of $5.485 million in economic damages and non-economic damages.
When a jury decides whether to award exemplary damages, they may consider factors that include:
- The specific situations of the parties involved
- The defendant’s responsibility
- 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 obtain 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. 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 personal injury case, and they’ll also know how to present the clear and convincing 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 personal injury cases depends on your compensatory damages, which can be economic or non-economic. Economic damages compensate lost funds (medical bills, lost wages) 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 of personal injury attorneys that brings a personalized and focused approach to personal injury claims. When you hire our law firm, 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 a free consultation of your personal injury lawsuit. 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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