Most successful personal injury claims yield only compensatory damages. As their name implies, such damages aim to compensate claimants for their actual losses. Examples include both economic damages, like lost wages and medical bills, and non-economic damages, like mental anguish and loss of enjoyment in life.
While undoubtedly helpful, there are some scenarios in which compensatory damages alone simply aren’t enough. The goal of any given tort claim, after all, is to achieve justice. That generally means making the injured party whole again, but sometimes it also demands that the liable party be punished. This is where punitive damages come in.
Also called exemplary damages, punitive awards aim to penalize liable parties for especially egregious behavior. They hopefully deter such conduct in the future, as well.
If you want to pursue punitive damages in the state of Texas, you’ll have to demonstrate how the liable party’s actions constituted fraud, malice, or gross negligence. You can do so by presenting “clear and convincing” evidence. It’s worth noting that if your case goes all the way to court, said evidence will have to be strong enough to yield a unanimous verdict.
You’ll also have to prove that you incurred actual damages as a result of the defendant’s wrongful behavior. You can typically do so using medical records, receipts and invoices for injury-related expenses, psychological evaluations, paystubs, and daily journal entries.
What Constitutes Gross Negligence?
Most of the scenarios that warrant punitive damages are fairly easy to define. Fraud occurs when someone knowingly misrepresents the truth, for example, or willfully conceals a material fact to another party’s detriment and/or their own benefit. This encompasses any deliberate act that aims to deprive another of money or property by deception.
Malice is also fairly straightforward. It’s characterized by intentional misconduct, or behavior that is fueled by the will to do wrong.
Gross negligence, however, leaves room for interpretation. Generally speaking, someone is grossly negligent if they knowingly commit an act—or omission—that has a high probability of causing extensive damage with a conscious indifference to the rights, welfare, or safety of others.
Getting behind the wheel while under the influence of drugs or alcohol is one of the most common examples of gross negligence. Those who are cognizant enough to drive should understand the risks associated of doing so while impaired. As such, drunk driving accident victims are often entitled to punitive damages.
How Does Texas Cap Punitive Awards?
To help mitigate frivolous suits in pursuit of unreasonable punitive awards, Texas typically caps these damages. In most cases, plaintiffs cannot recover more than the greater of $200,000 or twice their economic damages plus up to $750,000 of their non-economic damages.
Discuss Your Case with a Personal Injury Attorney in Houston
If you were seriously hurt by someone’s gross negligence, contact Chelsie King Garza, P.C. For more than 19 years, attorney Garza has been advocating for injured, ill, and disabled parties. To schedule a free initial consultation with a personal injury lawyer in Houston, complete the Contact Form on her website or call (713) 893-8808.