Austin Punitive Damages in a Car Accident
“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 Austin 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 a case for them. At Herrman & Herrman in Austin, we have over 100 years of shared litigation experience in auto accidents 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.
How Is Fault Determined In A Car Accident in Austin, TX?
Car accidents have claimed the lives of many in Texas and resulted in the damage of many vehicles. While this has become very alarming, deciding whose at fault sometimes gets very difficult. A preponderance of the evidence is the legal standard that is employed in determining fault in a car accident.
This Preponderance of the Evidence is Largely Based on Three Major Elements:
1) Breach of Duty of Care
Drivers owe a duty of care to other drivers and road users. At every point there is an accident, a breach of this duty of care is considered. The defaulter i.e. the person who breaches the duty of care is identified either by action or inaction. This could be caused by failure to maintain the required distancing or speed limit while driving.
2) The Cause in Fact
To determine whose fault an accident is in Texas, it must be proven that the direct action of the driver was responsible for the accident. The cause-in-fact is determined by the ‘but-for’ test.
3) The Proximate Cause
To determine car accident fault in Texas, attention is paid to the proximate cause. This means that injuries sustained by victims of the car accident are foreseeable by the driver in question.
In Texas, when there is an auto accident, recourse is made to the traffic laws and safety standards in determining damages to be awarded. To achieve this, Texas uses a ‘Comparative Fault Standard’ to apportion faults and award damages. This brings to mind the question – ‘what is a comparative standard fault?’ A comparative standard fault sometimes referred to as ‘proportionate responsibility’ means that the cause of the accident is determined by the attitudes of both drivers. Where there are more than two drivers, the attitudes of all drivers are considered in apportioning fault, measuring, and awarding damages.
Texas, in determining car accident fault also makes use of the 51% bar rule. This rule states that where a person is discovered to be 51% or more at fault for the accident, he/she may not be entitled to damages. This goes further to explain proximate causes as it has been provided above. A driver who because of being drunk crashes another car is liable for the accident. This is because the outcome is a foreseeable consequence of drunk driving.
To make determining fault in a car accident easier, it is important that the situation is immediately assessed and the facts comprehensively recorded. Pictures should be taken if possible and the police should be notified immediately.
When are Punitive Damages Available in Austin, 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 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 are 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’s 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 are 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 number 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 Austin Car Accident Attorney Can Help Recover Punitive Damages
When Herrman & Herrman handle 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 Austin, 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.