In Texas, the damages available in personal injury cases are either compensatory damages or exemplary damages. Exemplary damages in Texas are also called punitive damages.
A court awards compensatory damages to put the plaintiff in the situation they would have been had the collision never occurred.
Compensatory damages include both economic and non-economic damages, such as medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering, physical impairment, mental impairment, physical disfigurement or emotional distress.
In contrast, a court will award exemplary damages in Texas to punish the wrongdoer for their behavior. Exemplary damages should also deter people who might act in a way similar to the defendant in the future. In other words, exemplary damages in Texas are meant to penalize the defendant for their behavior and to warn others.
When Might a Court Award Exemplary Damages in Texas?
Due to their specific nature, a court will only award exemplary damages in Texas in certain situations.
The Texas Civil Practice & Remedies Code, § 41.003, outlines when a court should award punitive damages in Texas.
The plaintiff must prove by clear and convincing evidence that the harm the defendant caused, for which the plaintiff seeks recovery, resulted from:
- Malice; or
- Gross negligence.
The Code states explicitly that the plaintiff will not satisfy this standard by showing that the defendant acted out of ordinary negligence, bad faith, or deceptive trade practice.
In cases where the plaintiff requests exemplary damages, the jury must be unanimous about both the defendant's liability and the amount of exemplary damages.
The high standard, as well as the requirement for the jury to be unanimous, makes it very challenging for plaintiffs to obtain punitive damages in Texas.
When Are Exemplary Damages Not Permitted in Texas?
If the court only awarded nominal damages, the plaintiff may not receive exemplary damages. If the plaintiff elected to have their recovery multiplied because of another statute, they may not receive exemplary damages.
Texas Has a Cap on Exemplary Damages
In Texas, any award of exemplary damages must fall under a certain cap. Punitive damages in Texas may not exceed the greater of:
- $200,000; or
Twice the amount of economic damages plus an equal amount of non-economic damages up to $750,000In certain circumstances, however, the punitive damage (“Caps”) limitations may be waived. One example is an intoxicated driver causing a collision resulting in serious bodily harm.
What Does the Jury Consider When Deciding Punitive Damages in Texas?
According to the Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code, § 41.011, when deciding upon economic damages, the jury should consider the:
- Nature of the wrong;
- The character of the conduct involved;
- Degree of culpability of the wrongdoer;
- Situation and sensibilities of the parties concerned;
- The extent to which such conduct offends a public sense of justice and propriety; and
- The net worth of the defendant.
Contact an Experienced Southlake, TX Personal Injury Lawyer
If you have a personal injury case where you believe it may be appropriate to ask for exemplary damages, call The Francis Firm today. We can help analyze your case and give you an idea of what to expect in terms of compensation.
We have a proven track record of success and do all we can to help our clients.