If you have grounds to file a personal injury lawsuit in Texas, you could receive financial compensation from the defendant for causing your accident. This compensation is known as damages in personal injury law. There are two types of damages: compensatory and punitive. Compensatory damages make you whole again by fully compensating you for your injuries. Punitive damages, on the other hand, are used to punish a defendant.
What Are Punitive Damages?
According to Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code Section 41.001(5), punitive damages are not economic or noneconomic damages used for compensatory purposes. Instead, they are awarded as a penalty or punishment. Rather than reimbursing a victim for his or her losses, the purpose of awarding punitive damages is to make the defendant pay an additional amount as a form of punishment for a, particularly wrongful act.
Texas calls punitive damages exemplary damages. In this context, exemplary means to serve as a warning or deterrent to the defendant (and others in the community) not to commit the wrongful act again. Exemplary damages are relatively uncommon in personal injury cases in Texas. However, this type of award may be available in certain circumstances.
When Are Punitive Damages Available in Texas?
According to Section 41.003 of the Civil Practice and Remedies Code, a judge in Texas will only award exemplary damages if the claimant can prove that his or her cause of action is arising from an act of fraud, malice, or gross negligence by the defendant. State law has specific definitions for each of these terms:
- Knowingly making a false and damaging statement to a plaintiff with the intent to defraud or harm the plaintiff.
- The defendant’s specific intent to cause the claimant substantial bodily injury or harm.
- Gross negligence. An act or omission that involves an extreme degree of risk that the defendant knew about, yet still proceeded with the act anyway.
You must establish that you are eligible for punitive damages through a preponderance of the evidence. This means clear evidence that convinces a judge or jury that what you are asserting is more likely to be true than not true. This is a lesser burden of proof than in criminal law, which requires proof beyond a reasonable doubt.
Punitive damages will only be awarded in Texas if all 12 jurors are unanimous in believing that the defendant is liable for the damages you suffered. It is important to note that punitive damages are also contingent on you being given nominal damages. This means that you cannot receive punitive damages if you are not awarded compensatory damages.
How Are Punitive Damages Calculated?
If a jury unanimously decides to award punitive damages, the jurors are responsible for calculating a just and reasonable amount. The instructions the jury is given when calculating exemplary damages ask them to consider any evidence relating to the following factors when deciding upon an amount:
- The nature and degree of the wrongdoing
- The character of the misconduct involved
- The defendant’s degree of culpability
- The sensibilities of all parties concerned
- The extent to which the defendant’s actions offended the public sense of justice and propriety
- The net worth of the defendant
State law caps punitive damages awarded against any defendant to the greater of either twice the total amount of the plaintiff’s economic damages, plus noneconomic damages (not to exceed $750,000), or $200,000. However, this cap does not apply to a personal injury lawsuit that involves a defendant who knowingly or intentionally committed certain felony crimes, as listed in Section 41.008(c) of the law.
For more information about punitive damages in a Texas personal injury case, including finding out if you are eligible for this type of award, contact a personal injury attorney in San Antonio today.