When you sustain injuries because of another person’s negligence, you may file a compensation claim for the economic and non-economic damages. In addition to these, you may also be entitled to punitive damages. It’s an amount that the court orders the defendant or their insurance company to pay the plaintiff. A San Antonio personal injury lawyer explains.
What Are Punitive Damages in Texas?
According to Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code §40.011(5), punitive damages, also known as exemplary damages, punish the defendant for their negligence, not compensate the plaintiff for their loss. Punitive damages also deter other people or entities from making the same mistake as the defendant.
Punitive damages are not available in all personal injury cases. Some personal injury cases in which you could be entitled to punitive damages are auto accident cases, wrongful death, and truck accident cases. However, remember that the statutes of limitations dictate the time you have to file a claim. Most of them must be filed within two years from the accident date.
Since punitive damages are not awarded in Texas unless requested, it’s best to work with an experienced San Antonio auto accident lawyer who can help you claim the damages. However, the lawyer must prove various elements in court before it can award damages.
What Elements Must a Lawyer Prove to Win Punitive Damages in a Personal Injury Case?
Punitive damages are an extensive area of personal injury cases. So, the law requires that a personal injury attorney prove two things:
Actual damages refer to the absolute dollar figure the court awards for economic and non-economic damages. These include medical bills, lost wages, and mental anguish, among other things. You must first receive compensatory damages to be eligible for exemplary damages.
Your personal injury attorney in San Antonio must prove to the court that aggravated conduct, gross negligence, fraud, and malice caused the problem. Proving this element depends on two tests:
- Objective test: The attorney must show that someone in the same position as the defendant would have known that their action involved a high degree of risk
- Subjective test: The attorney must show that the defendant knew of the risk their conduct posed but still went ahead and acted negligently.
Proving these factors can be complex in a personal injury case, so you shouldn’t go to court alone. Working with a skilled attorney enhances your chances of a favorable case outcome.
What Evidence Does the Jury Consider When Deciding How Much to Award for Punitive Damages?
Before a court can order punitive damages to be paid in a personal injury case, they must unanimously agree that the accused is responsible for the plaintiff’s injuries. There also must be a unanimous decision about the punitive damages the court can grant.
According to the statute, the jurors in a jury trial have the authority to determine if the victim has proven the necessary elements in their punitive damage claim. The evidence the jury considers in deciding how much to award for punitive damages includes the following:
- The nature of wrongful action
- The defendant’s conduct and the degree of their guilt
- The situation and sensibilities of the parties involved
- How the behavior offends a public sense of justice and decency
- The defendant’s net worth
The court can demand evidence from the defendant regarding their net worth. However, the defendant can request the court to limit the discovery until the plaintiff proves the necessary elements for punitive damages.
How Much Can I Win in Punitive Damages in Texas?
How much you can win in punitive damages depends on the punitive damage caps in Texas as stipulated in the Texas Damages Act. The amount you can be awarded can’t be more than two times the amount of compensatory damages, in addition to an amount equal to the non-economic damages, up to $750,000.
You can only win up to $200,000 in punitive damages if you don’t recover economic damages. In some exceptional cases, caps on punitive damages may be waived for violating some sections of the Texas Penal Code. For example, the court may waive punitive damage caps for cases involving intoxication manslaughter or intoxication assault.
Why Are There Punitive Damage Caps in Texas?
Punitive damage caps exist because of the tort reform supporting fair courts and the abolishment of frivolous lawsuits. Frivolous lawsuits are filed by a party aware they’re without merit because they don’t have a supporting legal argument or factual basis for their claims. Such cases are wasteful in terms of time, money, and judicial resources.
The law aims to ensure fairness in awarding punitive damages by courts. It’s also a way to manage the expectation that businesses should pay large sums of money when found guilty of negligence to prevent exploitation and safeguard the well-being and safety of the economy.
The tort laws stipulate that parties that file frivolous lawsuits should be penalized with fines and sanctions. That’s why having a skilled auto accident attorney in San Antonio is crucial to protect your rights. They can evaluate your claim and check that it lacks elements that could qualify it as a frivolous lawsuit. They can also fight aggressively to help you get the maximum amount.
An Experienced Legal Professional Helping Your Recover Maximum Compensation
A punitive damages lawsuit can be complicated because proving the legal elements with clear and compelling evidence is daunting. However, adding a punitive damage claim can significantly increase the value of your personal injury claim. If you believe you deserve to be punitive damages in your case, let a seasoned personal injury attorney represent you.
Our auto accident attorney in San Antonio can help you file a compensation claim for the injuries and punitive damages if your case warrants it. The earlier we start investigating your case, the better the chances of collecting all the necessary evidence to prove your case in court. Don’t wait until it’s too late. Contact us to schedule a FREE case assessment.