What are Punitive Damages? 

By May 31, 2021 Posted in Personal Injury

If you were recently involved in a car accident, you might be wondering what damages you are entitled to receive. As we have previously discussed, Texas does not have a cap on non-economic and economic damages. However, punitive damages are possible in personal injury cases but rarely assessed against an individual defendant absent wanton and willful or reckless conduct. 

How Do Courts Measure Punitive or Exemplary Damages 

Punitive damages are often discussed in high-profile cases, such as against BP during the major oil spill in 2010. Courts impose punitive damages on large companies that have committed grievous torts as a punishment to ensure that the defendant does not commit the same negligent act again. In most states, punitive damages cannot exceed non-economic or economic damages by an 8 to 1 ratio. In Texas, punitive damages are limited to no more than two times the award of compensatory damages to the plaintiff. In addition, these damages are usually not paid to the plaintiff, unlike restitution. Instead, punitive damages are applicable in cases where the defendant has committed such a heinous act, that the court finds it appropriate to assess punitive measures aside from volunteer service or other means of reconciliation. 

In cases in which an award of punitive damages is allowed absent a showing of actual malice, the plaintiff must demonstrate, on the part of the defendant, such extraordinary or outrageous conduct as to amount to the possible legal equivalent of actual intent or actual malice, or wanton and reckless disregard. The court will only impose punitive damages against a defendant in Texas when they have shown outrageous conduct, actual malice against the plaintiff(s) that might have been motivated by hate or premeditated harm. The damages are not meant to compensate the plaintiff for a demonstrative loss, rather punitive damages are reserved specifically to punish the defendant and establish that the defendant’s behavior is not to be repeated, mimicked or imitated by other bad actors. In addition, courts cannot assess punitive damages unless an award for compensatory damages to the plaintiff has already been made. 

Deterrence and Punishment 

Texas case law sometimes refers to punitive damages as exemplary damages. Recently, courts have indicated in their holdings (a summary for why the judge has made a decision) that exemplary damages are reserved when the court wants to deter and warn others from committing a similar intentional tort or acting without regard for the safety or welfare of others. Texas Civil Procedure & Remedies Code 41.009 states that punitive damages can only be enforced in cases of fraud, malice or gross negligence. Malice applied to a car collision might include deliberate rear-ending of another vehicle, running a car off the road, or deliberately crossing the median to strike another vehicle head on. The common denominator is willful and wanton or intentional conduct with the intention to cause harm to the plaintiff. 

Call Our Personal Injury Lawyers Today 

Understanding what damages you may be entitled to, what the statute of limitations is or what court has jurisdiction over your case can be confusing. If you or a loved one were injured, do not go it alone. Our personal injury lawyers at Wham & Rogers possess decades of combined experience representing plaintiffs in thousands of tort claims. You will not pay unless we recover from the defendant on your behalf. If retained, we will review the facts of your case and outline your options for relief. Contact us today to schedule a consultation. 

Contact Us

1095 Evergreen Circle, Suite 204
The Woodlands, TX 77380
Free consultations 24/7
Phone: (832) 592-1108
Text: (832) 413-1428

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