One of the main goals of filing a personal injury lawsuit is pursuing compensation for your losses. The compensation you could receive, called damages, may cover tangible and intangible losses such as medical bills, lost wages, property damages, and pain and suffering. A special type of compensation you could receive in addition to these awards is punitive damages. Under Texas law, personal injury victims may seek punitive damages in certain circumstances. It can be difficult, however, to win this type of award.
What Are Punitive Damages?
The Texas courts divide a personal injury claimant’s financial recovery into two damage categories: compensatory and punitive. Compensatory damages make up for your losses by offering a financial award in a fair amount based on your economic and noneconomic damages. Punitive damages, on the other hand, punish a defendant for especially wrongful acts. Punitive damages are an award you might receive in addition to compensatory if the courts see fit to punish the defendant for certain acts.
- Gross negligence. Gross negligence goes beyond a simple breach of duty of care and into willfulness or recklessness. A defendant whose behavior shows an extreme disregard for the safety and health of others or knowledge that his or her actions could cause foreseeable harm is grossly negligent.
- Malice refers to the intent to commit the act in question, knowing that it will result in harm to others. A defendant guilty of malice will have intentionally caused your injuries or a loved one’s death. Someone could be guilty of express malice, formed by a rational mind, or implied malice that is inferred from the defendant’s conduct.
- Fraud refers to someone’s intentional deception of another through misrepresentation of material facts. Fraud can refer to tricks, scams, deceit or other dishonest actions the defendant knowingly committed to injure you or damage your property.
These are the three reasons the courts will award punitive damages during personal injury cases in Texas. To receive these damages, you or your attorney will need to prove that the defendant’s actions or misconduct meet the threshold of gross negligence, malicious intent to harm, fraud, recklessness or wanton disregard for your safety. The judge may then deem it appropriate to teach the defendant a lesson – and set a precedent for others in the community – by forcing him or her to pay an additional sum in punitive damages.
Punitive Damages and Texas Law
Section 41.001 of the Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code gives standards for the recovery of punitive damages or exemplary damages. It states that the plaintiff must prove through clear and convincing evidence that the defendant caused the harm in question through fraud, malice or gross negligence. A jury must unanimously vote in favor of the plaintiff regarding the defendant’s liability and the number of exemplary damages to receive a punitive damage award. This 12 out of 12 juror requirement differs from the 10 out of 12 requirements needed to settle on a verdict.
Texas law also places a cap on the amount of money you could receive in punitive damages. If you and your lawyer can overcome all the other challenges in receiving exemplary damages, you could receive up to the state’s maximum compensation. The law places a cap of $200,000 or twice the amount of your total economic damages plus an amount equivalent to your noneconomic damages, up to $750,000 maximum.
For example, if you received $1 million in economic damages for a spinal cord injury and $500,000 in noneconomic losses, the total amount of punitive damages possible would be $2,500,000 (two times $1 million, plus the $500,000). This cap does not apply, however, to cases where the defendant committed a felony. Work with an attorney to maximize your odds of obtaining punitive damages in Texas.