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Punitive Damages in Texas

Damages in a civil claim refer to monetary awards available to injured victims or plaintiffs. in Texas, the civil justice system offers damages to plaintiffs to make them whole again after accidents related to negligence. The party that has to pay damages will be the person or entity most responsible for causing the plaintiff’s injuries and losses. While every successful civil claim receives compensatory damages in Texas, only a few receive punitive damages.

What Are Punitive Damages?

The two types of damages available to a plaintiff in a personal injury claim are compensatory and punitive. Compensatory damages pay for a victim’s injuries and related expenses, such as medical bills, surgeries, rehabilitation, medications, lost income, pain and suffering, and property damage. Compensatory damages make a victim whole again by granting him or her financial compensation for both economic and noneconomic losses.

Punitive damages, on the other hand, are not awarded to reimburse an injured accident victim for his or her losses. Also called exemplary damages, punitive damages are a monetary award with the purpose of punishing the at-fault party (defendant). Punitive damages may be appropriate in a civil case involving a defendant whose actions go beyond ordinary negligence. If a defendant is guilty of extreme negligence or recklessness, for example, he or she may have to pay punitive damages as a punishment.

When Will a Jury in Texas Award Punitive Damages?

In a personal injury lawsuit, the amount awarded to a plaintiff in damages, if any, is up to a jury’s discretion. The jury will listen to the plaintiff’s story and decide how much is reasonable to force the defendant to pay in damages. Punitive damages are also up to a jury to award. Under Texas law, all 12 jurors must agree on a punitive damage award, not just 10 out of 12 (as is the case with most civil verdicts). A jury in Texas may choose to award punitive damages in three main instances.

  1. The defendant committed an egregious wrongdoing. In most cases, the plaintiff will have to prove through clear and convincing evidence that the defendant acted with gross negligence, fraud or malice to be eligible for punitive damages.
  2. The courts wish to deter others from committing similar acts. A jury may force a defendant to pay punitive damages to serve as a lesson for others in the community, to show them what can happen when they break the rules.
  3. The plaintiff’s injuries were so severe that he or she requires more than what is available in compensatory damages. In some cases, a jury may award additional punitive damages to further compensate a plaintiff for severe or permanent injuries.

For the most part, an injured accident victim will have to request punitive damages from a jury during a civil claim to receive this type of award. It will be up to the plaintiff or his or her lawyer to establish eligibility for punitive damages. This may require proof of the defendant’s gross negligence, recklessness or intent to harm.

Is There a Cap on Punitive Damages in Texas?

The amount awarded in punitive damages is up to the jury. The jury will analyze the unique factors of the specific case, such as the severity of the defendant’s misconduct, to determine a fair and appropriate amount. A jury may also consult similar cases in the past to look for guideposts established in prior case law.

Many states, including Texas, place caps on punitive damage awards. Texas’ damage cap limits punitive damages to a maximum of $200,000 or twice the plaintiff’s total amount of compensatory damages (up to a maximum of $750,000), whichever is greater. If you are eligible for punitive damages, you cannot receive more than what the state’s damage cap permits.

It has gotten increasingly difficult to recover punitive damages in a Texas civil case due to stricter rules from the Texas legislature. If you believe you are eligible for punitive damages, consult with a Houston personal injury attorney for assistance with your claim. A lawyer can improve your chances of receiving punitive damages for your serious injury.