Can I Get Punitive Damages for a Personal Injury Case?

Some accidents caused by the bad actions of a defendant, such as drunk driving, are beyond devastating for those involved. A great degree of pain and suffering can come with serious accidents, including the stress of medical bills and missed work. It is exceptionally frustrating to be a victim of a serious incident where an offered settlement amount falls short of these mounting expenses.

In these cases, justice may be served with additional monetary awards known as punitive damages (also referred to as exemplary damages). Personal injury laws allow for the payment of costs for accident-related expenses, as well as money paid by the defendant as punishment in cases of severe disregard for others’ safety and well-being.

What are Punitive Damages in Texas?

Punitive damages are referred to as “exemplary damages” in the Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code § 41.003, as they are intended to make an “example” out of someone for their bad actions. Punitive damages are awarded above and beyond compensatory damages, and include any damages awarded as a penalty or punishment, but not for compensatory purposes. They are intended as a deterrent so the party that caused the injury does not make the same kind or error or practice the same kind of negligence again.

Can I Get Punitive Damages for My Injury Case?

In Texas, to prove punitive damages in a personal injury case a plaintiff must show clear and convincing evidence that their injuries were caused by an act of fraud, malice, or gross negligence. In terms of what each means and what needs to be proven in a Texas punitive damages claim:

  • Fraud is a civil tort claiming criminal wrong, and for punitive damages can involve any type of fraud other than constructive fraud. To prove “fraud”, you must establish that the defendant knowingly made a false and important statement with the intention of causing someone to act based on that false information.
  • Malice requires a specific intent to commit and unlawful act and cause substantial injury or harm to another. To prove “malice”, you need to establish that the defendant intended to cause you significant bodily harm. The evidence supporting this claim must demonstrate the defendant’s specific intent.
  • Gross negligence involves a reckless disregard for the safety of others that it appears to be a violation of the right to safety others are due. To prove “gross negligence”, you must demonstrate the defendant’s conduct posed an extreme risk, they were aware of this risk, but still proceeded with the action.

This is quite difficult to prove by Texas law standards, and the burden of proof always lies with the claimant. It is not an option to transfer the burden of proof to the defendant, or simply to rely on facts of the case that show ordinary negligence or bad faith. There can be very fine distinctions between these insufficient concepts and the demonstration of the specific harm necessary for awarding of punitive damages.

How Much Can Punitive Damages Be?

Punitive damages are awarded to the victim of an accident as a form of punishment to the defendant. The purpose of these damages is to deter the defendant from repeating the same negligent act and to warn others from behaving negligently.

Still, the amount of punitive damages awarded in a personal injury lawsuit is not limitless. The formula for determining the maximum amount that may be awarded is set down in the Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code § 41.008, and is commonly referred to in Texas as “Damage Caps”.

Damage caps are typically calculated as the greater of:

  • $200,000; or,
  • two times the amount of economic damages plus the amount equal to non-economic damages (up to $750,000).

For example, suppose a construction worker sued his employer after suffering a brain injury due to gross negligence. If he or she is awarded $1,000,000 in economic damages and $1,000,000 in non-economic damages, the maximum total possible amount they could claim in punitive damages would be $2,750,000 (i.e., 2 x $1,000,000 in economic damages, plus the maximum of $750,000 in non-economic damages).

Can the Defendant in Question or Type of Injury Impact the Amount of Punitive Damages?

Yes. The above formula is different in the case of medical malpractice lawsuits, and in cases where a government or public entity is being sued. For example, government and public entities enjoy substantial protection from personal injury liability in Texas. Liability for personal injury against government entities is rare, but if it does occur, damages are limited to $250,000 per person and $500,000 per incident. These instances can be highly situation-specific, so please contact your expert Thompson Law attorney for advice about your situation.

Who Makes Decisions About Punitive Damages?

First, exemplary or punitive damages may be awarded in the case of a settlement out of court, either with or without a lawsuit being filed. Your attorney may negotiate without a lawsuit or choose to enter the arbitration process for an additional award beyond the compensatory damages owed. Punitive damage would be compensation based on the egregious behavior of the at-fault party, such as a drunk driver. In this case a mediator or other specialized participant in the negotiations is instrumental in the decision making this award.

Second, if a case needs to go to court, a jury can determine punitive damages. This can be an extremely difficult way to award punitive damages, as full agreement is required in a jury trial in Texas. All jurors must fully agree on the liability for the event and to the amount of the award. This is a slightly higher threshold than in other types of decisions juries make where only 10 out of 12 jurors must be in agreement.

What Do Punitive Damages Cover?

Punitive damages are not intended to cover specific costs that were a result of the accident. Punitive or exemplary damages are awarded for cases of fraud, malice or gross negligence on the part of the at-fault party for the incident in question. They are a legal tool for punishment and deterrent in cases where the actions at hand were egregious enough to warrant justice above and beyond simple repayment to the wronged party.

What Don’t Punitive Damages Cover?

There are three major types of damages that you can sue for in the State of Texas:

  1. Economic damages (also referred to as special damages, or monetary damages) are intended to compensate you for true economic losses.
  2. Non-economic damages (also referred to as general damages, or non-monetary damages) are intended to compensate you for losses that are not easy to quantify.
  3. Punitive damages (also referred to as exemplary damages) are intended to punish, not to compensate for any economic or non-economic losses.

The first two often referred to as compensatory damages when economic and non-economic damages are combined. As described below, compensatory damages can either be economic, meaning things like medical costs, lost wages, property damage, legal fees, or lost earning capacity; or non-economic, meaning things like emotional pain and anxiety, physical pain and suffering, loss of companionship or consortium, and other types of loss or inconvenience.

What are Compensatory Damages?

It is important to understand the difference between compensatory and punitive (or exemplary) damages. Compensatory damages exist to “make the defendant whole.” This type of award is intended to compensate for the quantifiable losses that were suffered as a result of the accident. Compensatory damages include both economic and non-economic damages or losses.

What are Economic Damages?

Economic damages (also known as general damages) are losses with a definitive monetary value. Examples of economic damages include losses that were a direct result of the accident, such as:

What are Non-Economic Damages?

Non-Economic damages (also known as special damages) also have monetary value, but they are harder to measure. Examples of non-economic losses include:

  • Physical pain and suffering
  • Mental or emotional pain or anguish
  • Loss of consortium
  • Disfigurement
  • Physical impairment
  • Loss of companionship and society
  • Inconvenience
  • Loss of enjoyment of life
  • Injury to reputation
  • All other non-monetary losses other than exemplary damages

How Thompson Law Can Help With a Punitive Damages Claim

It has become more difficult to win punitive damages due to the decisions made by Texas courts over the last few decades. With this in mind, call on the experts to help you when you have suffered a life changing accident. Even after medical bills are paid, cars are repaired or replaced, and recompense is received for lost wages after the accident, there are still parts of the story left unresolved. You deserve more than just these basic reimbursements, you deserve justice.

If you have been hurt in an accident, and don’t know where to turn, Thompson Law is here for you. Our expert legal team will strategically evaluate your claim and case and fight hard for you to win the most appropriate and deserving combination of compensatory and exemplary damages possible. Our results speak for themselves, and we take the business of fighting for justice for our clients very seriously.

No Win No Fee lawyer for punitive damages in injury claims

If you found this article helpful, you may also like:

How Do Lawyers Charge for Personal Injury Cases?

Do I Need an Accident Lawyer?

What Should I Seek for Pain and Suffering?

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