Punitive damages or “exemplary damages” are awarded in civil trials to punish a defendant for gross negligence, recklessness or intentional misconduct.
Such damages are not intended to compensate the victim but they are included in the compensation award, often resulting in a significantly higher amount than the standard economic and non-economic damages awarded in personal injury cases.
The purpose of punitive damages is to punish the wrongdoing of the defendant and sometimes also to serve as a warning to the general public of the need to follow the duty of care expected of them.
How likely are you to be awarded punitive damages for your personal injury case in Texas?
Claiming such damages can be challenging and many personal injury victims are ineligible. The following information will help you understand whether you can claim exemplary damages and, if so, what you will need to prove in court…
Exemplary damages eligibility in Houston
The Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code is the main legislation used to decide personal injury cases in Houston.
According to Section 41.003, punitive or exemplary damages are awarded if a plaintiff proves clearly and convincingly that their harm resulted from either fraud, malice or gross negligence. So, negligence alone is not enough to make you eligible to claim these damages in your personal injury case.
Furthermore, bear in mind that punitive damages can only be awarded if the jury’s decision about liability for the injuries and the amount of compensation due is unanimous.
Learn More → Can I claim compensation for a pedestrian accident injury in Texas?
How difficult is it to claim punitive damages in Houston?
Because of the strict eligibility requirements (a unanimous jury and the requirement for clear and convincing evidence of actual damages), it can be challenging for victims to successfully claim punitive damages in personal injury cases in Houston.
Additionally, punitive damages cannot be claimed if only nominal damages are awarded or if you have your recovery multiplied under another statute.
Is there a cap for punitive damages in Texas?
The Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution requires that punitive damage awards are not excessive.
As such, personal injury cases in Texas are subject to caps on punitive damage awards so that they are reasonable and fair.
Damages may not exceed a sum of $200,000 or an amount equal to two times the economic damages plus an amount equal to any non-economic damages found by the jury not to exceed $750,000.
What does the jury consider before awarding punitive damages?
The jury will consider the following factors when assessing the punitive damages due:
- What the defendant did wrong
- The character of the wrongdoing
- The degree of culpability of the defendant
- The situations and respective sensibilities of the parties concerned
- Whether the conduct offends a public sense of justice and propriety
- The defendant’s net worth
Who holds the burden of proof in punitive damage cases?
The burden of proof for punitive damages is “clear and convincing” evidence and it falls upon the plaintiff.
The standard requirement in personal injury cases is for “preponderance of the evidence” so for punitive damages, the evidential requirements are raised.
Ultimately, this means that the injured party in a personal injury case must provide clear and convincing evidence that the actions of the defendant were egregious — not only that they suffered an injury from the negligence or wrongdoing of the defendant.
What must you prove to recover punitive damages in Texas?
To successfully recover punitive damages from a defendant in a Texas personal injury case, you must show more than mere negligence on the part of the defendant. You will need to prove to the court that the harm resulted from fraud, malice, or gross negligence.
Gross negligence is an act or omission that:
- Involves an extreme degree of risk, considering the probability and magnitude of the potential harm to others when viewed objectively from the standpoint of the actor at the time of its occurrence; and
- Occurs when the actor has actual, subjective awareness of the risk involved but nevertheless proceeds with conscious indifference to the rights, safety, or welfare of others.
To reiterate, you cannot claim punitive damages for mere negligence. Furthermore, punitive damages cannot be claimed in Texas for violations of the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act, the Texas Insurance Code, Antitrust Code violations, or criminal Medicare Fraud.
An experienced Houston personal injury lawyer can help you recover maximum damages
While monetary awards don’t compensate for the pain, suffering and trauma of your injuries, it can help to know that justice has been served to the negligent party.
The standard compensation for economic and non-economic losses is sometimes insufficient. Grossly negligent parties should also be held accountable for their wrongdoing or recklessness in causing your injuries.
As you have seen, claiming punitive damages from Houston courts can be challenging. Your best chance is with the assistance of an experienced personal injury lawyer like Ryan DeHoyos and his team.
We are skilled litigators and negotiators and will not rest until you claim the maximum possible damages for your injuries. Contact us today for a free consultation to evaluate your case. Call us directly at (832) 745-4878 or contact us online today.