What Are Punitive Damages in Texas?
When you sue another person or entity, like a corporation, you could be entitled to damages when you win. The term damages refers to money a court order the losing party (or, more specifically, the losing party’s insurance company) to pay you. There are two main types of damages in Texas: punitive and compensatory.
In some personal injury lawsuits, the law allows a court to order punitive damages. However, the majority of lawsuits settle out of court, which means that your personal injury attorney and the other party’s attorney reach an agreement that you agree is satisfactory. You can only get punitive damages if you go to court and a judge awards them to you – otherwise, you’ve reached a settlement.
What Are Punitive Damages in Texas?
Also called exemplary damages, punitive damages are designed to punish the person or entity that did something wrong. A court awards them to a plaintiff – the person who’s bringing the lawsuit – to make an example out of the defendant to deter other people or entities from making the same mistakes. You could be entitled to punitive damages in a wrongful death case, a catastrophic injury case, a truck accident case or any number of other personal injury cases.
Punitive Damages vs. Compensatory Damages
Punitive damages are different from compensatory damages. The term compensatory damages refers to a sum of money designed to make up for things like lost wages, loss of companionship or medical bills.
A court can award punitive damages in a case where the defendant’s behavior, negligence or inaction was appallingly over-the-top.
Punitive damages aren’t designed to help you pay for things or make up for money you lost as a result of the defendant’s actions, although you can use them in any way you’d like. Courts use them to punish the defendant and discourage others from doing the wrong thing, too.
What Your Lawyer Must Prove to Win Punitive Damages in Your Case
Punitive damages can be extremely large, so the law requires your attorney to show two things: actual damages and aggravated conduct.
Actual damages is the term the courts use for the real dollar figure awarded for things like the loss of wages, mental anguish, medical bills and other factors. You must receive compensatory damages in order to be eligible for exemplary damages.
Your attorney has to show the court that aggravated conduct – in personal injury cases, it’s usually gross negligence, but it can be fraud or malice – caused the problem. There’s an objective test and a subjective test, and they work like this:
- The objective test requires your attorney to show the court that someone in the defendant’s position would have known that what they did involved an extreme degree of risk.
- The subjective test requires your attorney to show the court that the person or entity knew of the risk but still went ahead.
How Much Can You Win in Punitive Damages?
The Texas Damages Act puts a cap on the amount of money you can recover for exemplary damages. The amount can’t exceed two times the amount of compensatory damages plus an amount equal to noneconomic damages, not to exceed $750,000. (So that’s twice your compensatory damages plus up to an additional $750,000.) If the jury doesn’t award economic damages, you can win up to $200,000.
Note: Economic damages are those you can quantify and that compensate you for actual monetary losses you incurred, such as medical bills.
Do You Need to Talk to an Attorney About Recovering Punitive Damages?
If you’ve been the victim of someone’s gross negligence, malice or fraud in a personal injury case, we may be able to help you recover compensatory and punitive damages. Call us right now for a free case review. You may be entitled to financial compensation that helps you get your life back on track – and if you are, we’ll fight hard for what you deserve.