Are Punitive Damages Available For Injury Claims In Texas?

June 24, 2024 | Car Accidents

There are the usual types of damages associated with successful personal injury claims. These are the ones you might be familiar with, including economic and non-economic damages that help pay for medical bills, lost wages, and various types of emotional and psychological distress and suffering. However, for some types of personal injury claims, punitive damages may be available. These are very specific types of damages made available through Texas law, and they only apply to very particular situations.

How are Punitive Damages Defined in Texas?

Punitive damages, also known as exemplary damages, are intended to punish the defendant (the person who allegedly caused the injury) for particularly egregious conduct and to deter similar types of actions or behavior in the future. According to Texas law, punitive damages are not awarded to the plaintiff for any specific economic loss. Instead, they are imposed to penalize the defendant for actions that were especially harmful.

Under the Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code, Chapter 41, punitive damages may be awarded if the plaintiff can prove by “clear and convincing evidence that the harm resulted from fraud, malice, or gross negligence.” Malice involves a specific intent to cause substantial harm to the claimant, while gross negligence refers to an act or omission that involves a high degree of risk, considering the probability and significance of potential harm to others​.

Why are Punitive Damages so Hard to Obtain?

Punitive damages are challenging to obtain because the plaintiff must meet a higher burden of proof compared to other types of damages. While compensatory damages only require a preponderance of the evidence, punitive damages require clear and convincing evidence of the defendant’s reprehensible conduct.

In addition, Texas law imposes caps on punitive damages to prevent excessive awards. The cap is generally set at the greater of double the amount of economic damages plus the amount equal to non-economic damages (up to $750,000) or $200,000. This limitation aims to balance the need for punishment and deterrence with fairness and proportionality.

Some Scenarios Where Punitive Damages Could Apply

Punitive damages are reserved for cases where the defendant’s actions were particularly egregious. Here are a few scenarios where punitive damages might be applicable:

  • Drunk driving accidents. If a person is injured by a driver who was intoxicated and knowingly took the risk of driving under the influence, punitive damages may be awarded to punish and deter such dangerous behavior.
  • Product liability. If a manufacturer knowingly sold a dangerous product without proper warnings or after discovering defects, punitive damages could be imposed for gross negligence or fraud.
  • Medical malpractice. In cases where a healthcare provider’s conduct goes beyond mere negligence and involves intentional harm or a reckless disregard for patient safety, punitive damages may be appropriate.
  • Employer misconduct. If an employer knowingly exposes employees to hazardous conditions without proper safety measures, and this results in serious injury or death, punitive damages might be considered to penalize the employer for gross negligence or malicious conduct.

Call a Personal Injury Lawyer Who Can Help Today

If you believe you have a personal injury claim that might qualify for punitive damages, it is essential to seek legal assistance. The experienced Austin personal injury attorneys at the Bonilla Law Firm can help you understand your rights and guide you through the complex legal process. Contact us for a free consultation by visiting our contact page or calling us today.