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Personal Injury Compensation Explained: What are Exemplary Damages in Texas?

When you go to court after being hurt by someone’s negligence, you typically seek compensatory damages to repay you for your financial expenses, plus pain and suffering. When the defendant’s behavior was found especially heinous or maliciously intentional, you may qualify for what’s known as exemplary damages. These are meant to punish the wrongdoer above and beyond your losses.

If you have been injured in an accident and are wondering what damages may be available in your case, the qualified Houston personal injury lawyers at The Krist Law Firm, P.C. can help. Contact us for a free case evaluation and learn how we can put our experience and record of success to work for you.

Basics of Personal Injury Damages

Medical Bills Exemplary DamagesThere are two types of Texas personal injury damages: compensatory and exemplary (punitive). Compensatory damages are designed to make the plaintiff whole and include economic and non-economic items like:

  • Medical bills
  • Prescription medications
  • Lost income and benefits
  • Lost earning capacity
  • Physical pain
  • Mental anguish
  • Physical limitations or disability
  • Scarring and disfigurement
  • Loss of enjoyment of life
  • Rehabilitation and therapy costs

Exemplary damages are awarded, in addition to compensatory damages, as a punishment for egregious behavior. They are also meant to deter similar wrongdoing by others. Exemplary damages are available in certain cases but have been severely limited by state law and court decisions.

Am I Eligible for Exemplary Damages?

Under Section 41.003 of the Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code, exemplary damages are awarded if a plaintiff proves with clear and convincing evidence that their harm resulted from:

  • Fraud
  • Malice
  • Gross negligence

Exemplary damages may also only be awarded if the jury’s decision was unanimous regarding liability and the amount awarded for the plaintiff’s losses. This, in combination with the clear and convincing evidence standard, makes it difficult to recover exemplary damages in personal injury cases in Texas.

Examples of When Punitive Damages May Be Awarded

Auto manufacturing defect Exemplary DamagesSuffering a personal injury can sometimes leave the victim with life-changing harm. In situations where the defendant was truly careless, unskilled, or malicious, their actions are considered even more upsetting. Exemplary damages exist because they are intended to cause a substantial financial burden to the at-fault party while indicating behaviors that won’t be tolerated.

Some common examples of when exemplary damages could be warranted include:

  • An automobile manufacturer fails to design acceleration features properly on their electric vehicle, which results in multiple instances of injury and property damage when it unexpectedly loses power while the car is at highway speed.
  • A construction company knowingly cut corners on equipment and materials, leading to significant safety risks for inhabitants of the business’s poorly built homes. Owners and tenants experienced injuries and property damage when faulty electrical wiring resulted in fires.

While property disputes typically will not qualify for exemplary damages, there are many other kinds of personal injury cases where the victim could seek a punitive award, such as:

  • Animal attacks and dog bites
  • Commercial truck accidents
  • Drunk driving and hit-and-run automotive accidents
  • Nursing home neglect and abuse
  • Premises liability cases, such as a slip-and-fall
  • Product liability claims
  • Sexual assault

In some instances, the compensatory damages could be quite high if the victim is left with permanent injuries or disability. This can affect the amount of punitive damages a jury is allowed to award.

What Is Required to Pursue Exemplary Damages?

Even if your life is substantially affected by your injuries, your case may not qualify for exemplary damages. For compensatory losses, your attorney must show that the defendant was negligent by proving the following elements:

  1. The defendant owed you and others a duty of care to take reasonable caution.
  2. The defendant did not uphold this duty.
  3. You suffered injury and loss as a direct result of their failure.
  4. You have financial and non-financial losses related to your injury.

To request exemplary damages, your lawyer must further present evidence demonstrating how the defendant’s actions were grossly negligent, reckless, or intended to cause harm. The court will also examine similar cases in which punitive damages were awarded to guide them on whether to agree to them and for how much. In some instances, the judge may choose to award punitive damages without the plaintiff’s request.

Are Punitive Damages Hard To Get?

Texas has several limitations to exemplary damages. Specifically, they cannot be given if the total damage amount is small or if the plaintiff elects to have their recovery multiplied under another statute. It’s very uncommon for punitive damages to be awarded, according to the most recent reporting by the Bureau of Justice Statistics. While up to 12% of plaintiffs seek exemplary damages, they are awarded in only about 5% of cases.

An experienced personal injury lawyer will skillfully demonstrate your entitlement to punitive damages. In calculating such exemplary damages as compensation, the jury must consider many factors, including:

  • The nature of the wrongdoing, such as whether it was intentional or grossly negligent
  • The defendant’s criminal record and activity, if any
  • The defendant’s past actions that are justifiably related to the issue at hand
  • The likelihood the defendant will continue to engage in wrongful behavior
  • The actions the defendant may have taken to remediate the harm or prevent further injury
  • The character of the defendant’s actions or inactions
  • The degree of culpability the defendant bears
  • The details of the situation
  • The sensibilities of all parties involved and concerned with the matter
  • The extent to which the defendant’s conduct offends a public sense of justice and propriety
  • The net worth of the defendant

High Punitive Damage Awards Are Not Always a Good Thing

While a punitive damage award can feel justified when a wrongdoer has harmed many individuals, it does not come without its downsides. For example, extremely high amounts in the tens of millions can quickly be reduced by damages caps imposed under Texas law. Additionally, while compensatory damages are not taxed as income, punitive awards are.

Another potential roadblock to securing an exemplary award is that Texas recently updated its current statute to require that a jury be unanimously in favor of awarding punitive damages. It’s possible for the court to rule in your favor yet be unable to agree whether the defendant was grossly negligent or intended to cause others harm.

Damages Caps In Texas

In Texas, there are statutory caps on punitive damages in personal injury cases. For instance, an award of exemplary damages may not exceed an amount equal to the greater of:

  • Two times the economic damages plus an amount equal to any non-economic damages found by the jury, not to exceed $750,000
  • $200,000

There are some specific instances where the cap is different, such as for medical malpractice claims and cases against a government agency. In addition, when the defendant is also facing felony charges, there is no cap on punitive damages. These situations include:

When your attorney can show at your civil trial (not the criminal trial held by the government) that the defendant knowingly and intentionally committed a crime against you, you can request or be awarded a higher amount of exemplary damages.

In the event of wrongful death claims, the family can seek punitive damages when they can demonstrate their loved one died as a result of the defendant’s willful malice or gross negligence. Navigating the nuances of the law around these legal details can be overwhelming unless you are working with a skilled Texas personal injury lawyer who can interpret them to your advantage.

Act Quickly if You Have a Personal Injury Claim in Texas

Whether you expect to be able to receive exemplary damages or not, it’s vital that you take action right away after you are hurt. When someone else is at fault, you may begin by filing an insurance claim before realizing that your case must proceed to a courtroom. In Texas, the statute of limitations for personal injury cases is only two years from the date you are harmed.

When you hire a personal injury firm to manage your case, they can uncover details of who is liable for your harm and calculate the full value of your damages. Your lawyer will stick with your claim until they secure a satisfactory settlement for you; and, if a settlement is unreachable, they will be ready to head to trial. They will make every effort to ensure that time does not run out to file your case and obtain the justice you deserve.

An Experienced Personal Injury Attorney Works to Help You Recover the Maximum Compensation Available

If you have been hurt because of another’s negligent, reckless, or intentional conduct, you deserve compassionate and skilled representation from the beginning. This could be the difference in getting the compensatory or exemplary damages you are rightfully entitled to by law.

The Houston personal injury lawyers at The Krist Law Firm, P.C. are experienced negotiators and litigators with a proven track record of success. Our legal team has more than four decades of experience helping accident victims secure the maximum compensation possible, including numerous multi-million-dollar recoveries. We will handle your case with the high level of care and dedication it deserves so you can concentrate on moving forward with your life.

Contact us today at (281) 283-8500 or online to schedule a free, no-risk consultation.