“Punitive damages” or “exemplary damages” refers to compensation that a jury may award the injured party(s) in a car accident lawsuit to punish the defendant and to deter similar acts by the defendant or others. In Texas, a plaintiff who demands punitive damages must be ready to persuade all members of a jury that the defendant clearly acted with fraud, malice, or gross negligence.
Not all cases that our Abilene car accident lawyers handle warrant punitive damages. In most cases, we help plaintiffs recover full compensatory damages for their medical expenses, lost income, property damage, and pain and suffering from a car accident. But when defendants have acted egregiously, we work aggressively to ensure that our clients recover the maximum compensation available by law, including punitive damages.
For punitive damages to be made available in your car accident case, you will need an experienced and skilled legal team to make the case for them. At Herrman & Herrman in Abilene, we have over 100 years of shared litigation experience in car accident and other personal injury cases, and we have a track record of winning large judgments when warranted. Phone (361) 882-4357 or contact Herrman & Herrman online today to be confident that your car accident claim will be handled professionally and with the highest level of legal skill.
When are Punitive Damages Available in Texas?
Punitive damages may be awarded as part of a jury verdict in Texas in a personal injury or wrongful death case, either of which may follow a car accident. Therefore, a claim must go to trial for the plaintiff to receive punitive damages. A negotiated settlement may be larger because it takes into account the egregiousness of the defendant’s conduct, but it will not include a specific punitive damages award.
A jury must vote unanimously to award punitive damages and must also be unanimous on the amount of money it awards.
Before awarding punitive damages, a jury must find that the plaintiff (injured party) has proven with “clear and convincing evidence” that the harm the defendant inflicted upon the plaintiff was the product of:
- Fraud – an act of deception that is material, willful, and performed with the intent to deceive
- Malice – a specific intent by the defendant to cause substantial injury or harm to the claimant, or
- Gross Negligence – an act or omission (failure to act) in which:
o A reasonable person would have recognized the extreme degree of risk and the probability and magnitude of the potential harm to others, or
o the defendant had actual, subjective awareness of the risk involved but nevertheless proceeded with conscious indifference to the rights, safety, or welfare of others.
In car accident cases, the requisite indifference to others’ safety or welfare, or malice, needed to demand punitive damages is typically seen in:
- Drunk driving accidents caused by drivers with excessive blood-alcohol concentrations (0.15 percent BAC or more vs. the legal limit of 0.08 percent) and/or previous DUI convictions and revoked driver license
- Excessive speeding, street racing, or other aggressive driving accidents involving high speeds and/or flagrantly reckless driving
- Road rage cases, in which an enraged driver assaults another driver, a passenger, etc.
- Accidents caused by knowingly driving an unsafe vehicle, such as one with worn brakes or nonworking headlights or taillights, if such malfunctions caused the accident.
- Product liability cases in which a manufacturer denied or took steps to hide a defect in an automobile or automotive part, and its malfunction caused or contributed to an accident.
Texas puts Caps on Punitive Damages
Compensation awarded to the plaintiff in most car accident cases is meant to make the injured party financially whole. It helps them pay costs incurred because of the accident and make up for the physical and emotional harm the accident has caused them. Most claims seek:
- Economic damages: Money for medical expenses, rehabilitation costs, lost income, lost earning capacity, and property damage, such as to their car
- Non-economic damages: Money for pain and suffering, emotional distress, and loss of quality of life.
Many states limit the amount of damages a plaintiff may recover in a personal injury or wrongful death claim. Texas does not limit, or “cap,” economic or non-economic compensation in car accident claims, but it does cap exemplary/punitive damages.
If you win punitive damages from a jury, the amount may not exceed an amount equal to the greater of:
- Two times the amount of economic damages plus the amount of non-economic damages awarded, not to exceed $750,000
However, this cap does not apply to cases of drunk driving injury or wrongful death, also known as intoxication assault, and intoxication manslaughter, or in cases of injury to a child, elderly individual, or disabled individual.
How A Car Accident Attorney Can Help Recover Punitive Damages
When Herrman & Herrman handles a car accident case, we take all the necessary actions to get the case resolved with our client recovering full compensation. When it is necessary, as it would be for a case demanding punitive damages, we proceed to civil court fully prepared to obtain justice for our client.
We investigate car accidents and obtain documentation pertaining to the crash, including witness statements and police reports. We obtain client medical records and stay in touch with each step of their medical treatment and recovery. We work with accident reconstruction specialists, medical consultants, actuaries, and others who are respected in their fields and who can testify as experts to build a strong, fact-based case for the compensation our clients are due.
To obtain compensatory damages at trial, you must convince a jury by a preponderance of the evidence that you are 50 percent or less responsible for a car accident. A “preponderance of the evidence” essentially means the belief that what the evidence indicates is more likely true than not true. But the requirement for punitive damages is much higher.
“Clear and convincing evidence” of gross negligence, malice (intentional harm) or fraud (deceit) is evidence that creates a firm belief or conviction as to the truth of the plaintiff’s claims. Further, it must do so within the mind of each juror. “Clear and convincing” is not as high a bar to recovery as “beyond a reasonable doubt,” as required in criminal court, but it is still a high standard, and the jury will be instructed as to its meaning and requirements before it deliberates.
This makes it imperative to work with an experienced legal team if there was gross negligence, malice, or fraud in a Texas car accident that injured you or a loved one of yours. Further, the attorneys you work with must have the resources and the dedication needed to compile the exacting evidence needed to make the case.
Our Texas personal injury attorneys have successfully resolved over 20,000 cases by aggressively pursuing the proper and just resolution to complex personal injury claims. Our resources and dedication are combined with experience, legal knowledge, and insight from a former insurance adjuster and several former insurance defense attorneys. In addition to building a solid case for you, we’ll know what to expect from the other side of the table.
Contact Our Punitive Damages Lawyers in Abilene, Texas
Personal injury claims allow those who have been injured through no fault of their own to obtain justice and recover their financial stability. An award of punitive or exemplary damages makes an additional statement on behalf of the plaintiff and society against the gross negligence, malice, or fraud of the defendant.
If you have been injured in a Texas car accident that was not your fault and included wanton recklessness or disregard for others’ safety by the driver at fault, we can help you pursue all of the compensation you deserve, including punitive damages.
Our experienced car accident attorneys pursue cases on a contingency fee basis, meaning you do not pay us unless and until we win your case. Contact us online or by telephone at (361) 882-4357 as soon as possible for a free consultation about your accident and injuries.