When someone causes injury to another person, the law holds the responsible party liable for damages. The damages include compensatory damages, such as economic and non-economic damages. However, a jury can also award punitive damages in some cases.
Punitive damages punish the person who caused the injury. Only certain personal injury cases support an award for punitive damages. However, when awarded, punitive damages can be substantial.
What Are Punitive Damages?
Punitive damages are a punishment. They are awarded in a small number of personal injury cases.
The intent is to deter the defendant and others in society from repeating the behavior that resulted in a person’s injuries. Jurors must find that the defendant’s behavior met specific guidelines provided by Texas statutes. Otherwise, an award of punitive damages is not justified.
When Can Punitive Damages Be Awarded Under Texas Law?
Texas Statute §41.001 defines punitive damages as any damages awarded as a penalty or by way of punishment. They are not meant to be compensatory, although they are awarded to the victim nonetheless. Compensatory damages “compensate” an injured party for financial losses and other damages.
Exemplary damages (another name for punitive damages) are awarded when the jury finds the defendant acted with the following:
- Gross negligence
Malice occurs when a person acts with the specific intent to cause substantial injury or harm to another person. A person guilty of malice might also be charged with a crime, such as murder or assault. However, they do not have to be charged with or found guilty of criminal acts for a jury to award punitive damages.
Gross negligence involves conduct with an extreme degree of risk of causing harm to someone. Even though the person is aware of the risk, they proceed with the activity with disregard for the safety of others. For example, driving under the influence (DUI) could be an example of gross negligence that justifies punitive damages.
Fraud is an intentional or negligent misrepresentation of fact. The fraud must result in injury and does not include constructive fraud.
The award for punitive damages must be unanimous. The jurors must also return a unanimous verdict for the amount of punitive damages. Otherwise, punitive damages cannot be awarded in a personal injury case.
Does Texas Law Cap the Amount of Punitive Damages Awarded in a Case?
A cap is the maximum amount that can be awarded for damages. Punitive damages are capped in Texas personal injury cases at an amount equal to the greater of:
- $200,000; OR,
- Double the economic damages plus an amount equal to the non-economic damages up to a maximum of $750,000.
Maximizing the non-economic and economic damages in a personal injury trial can help increase the amount of punitive damages awarded. Careful documentation of all losses with supporting evidence is essential for receiving full compensation for a tragic loss.
How Does the Jury Determine the Amount of Punitive Damages Awarded in a Case?
A plaintiff (injured party) must prove by “clear and convincing evidence” that punitive damages are justified for a personal injury case. Clear and convincing evidence is a higher level of proof than “by a preponderance of the evidence,” which is the level of proof required for personal injury damages.
The law explains that jurors should consider evidence relating to the following criteria when determining how much to award for punitive damages:
- The nature of the defendant’s conduct;
- The sensibilities and situation of the parties involved;
- The extent of the conduct to the public sense of decency and justice;
- The character of the defendant’s conduct; and,
- The defendant’s degree of blame.
A plaintiff can request evidence of the defendant’s net worth for jurors to consider. However, the defendant can object to the request. They can ask the judge to limit discovery until the plaintiff proves they have a good chance of proving their case for punitive damages.
How Long Do I Have To File a Claim for Punitive Damages in Texas?
Punitive damages are part of a personal injury lawsuit. Therefore, the statute of limitations for punitive damages runs with the deadline for filing a personal injury lawsuit.
However, there are exceptions to the rule. The exceptions could shorten the time you have to file a claim.
Therefore, it is wise to speak with a San Antonio personal injury lawyer as soon as possible after an injury or accident. A lawyer calculates the deadline for you based on your claim.
Contact Us for a Free Consultation With a San Antonio Personal Injury Lawyer
Our legal team carefully analyzes your case to determine if the facts support punitive damages. We diligently pursue all actions to recover money for your claim, contact us at George Salinas Injury Lawyers at (210) 225-0909 for a free consultation.