Punitive Damages

Damages are the remedy the court provides to injured parties to compensate them for their losses and the harm caused by another party. Typically, an injured party can receive compensatory damages. However, in some cases, the injured party might also receive punitive damages if their case goes to trial.

What Is the Difference Between Compensatory Damages and Punitive Damages in a Personal Injury Case?

What Is the Difference Between Compensatory Damages and Punitive Damages in a Personal Injury Case?

Compensatory damages are intended to compensate an injured party for their losses. There are two types of compensatory damages:

Economic damages represent the monetary losses you sustain because of an injury or accident. They include your:

  • Medical bills and expenses
  • Property damage
  • Lost wages
  • Rehabilitative therapy
  • Personal and/or nursing care
  • Diminished earning capacity
  • Out-of-pocket expenses

Non-economic damages compensate you for the pain and suffering you experienced because of the other party’s actions. Examples of these damages include:

  • Physical pain
  • Loss of quality of life and enjoyment of life
  • Emotional distress
  • Mental anguish
  • Impairments and disability
  • Scarring and disfigurement 

Punitive damages do not compensate you for your losses, even though you are awarded the money nonetheless. Instead, punitive damages are a form of punishment a jury imposes based on a defendant’s conduct. The defendant in a personal injury lawsuit is the party who caused your injuries. 

When Do Juries Award Punitive Damages in a Friendswood Personal Injury Case?

Punitive or exemplary damages are awarded to punish a defendant. Juries also award punitive damages as a deterrent for the defendant and society at large. The damages are meant to discourage the defendant and others from engaging in the same or similar conduct that resulted in your injuries. 

Texas law clearly defines the criteria for awarding punitive damages in a personal injury lawsuit. The statute explains that the damages are awarded as a punishment or penalty when the defendant engages in conduct that rises to the level of gross negligence, malice, or fraud. 

The statute defines the type of conduct that justifies punitive damages as:

  • Fraud – Any fraudulent conduct except constructive fraud.
  • Malice – A specific intent to cause substantial injury or harm to the plaintiff (person who filed the lawsuit).
  • Gross Negligence – Conduct that includes an extreme risk of injury or harm to other people, and when the defendant has subjective awareness or actual knowledge that the conduct could cause harm to other people.

There is a higher burden of proof standard for punitive damages as well. Compensatory damages only require proof by a preponderance of the evidence. That means you must prove to the jury there is more than a 50% chance that the facts you present are true rather than untrue.

However, punitive damages require you to prove your case by clear and convincing evidence. This level of proof requires the jurors to believe that it is highly and substantially likely that the facts you present are true rather than untrue.

Are There Caps on Punitive Damages in Texas Personal Injury Cases?

Caps on damages limit the amount a plaintiff can receive for damages, regardless of the amount a jury might award. Texas caps punitive damages at the greater of:

  • Double the amount of economic damages awarded by the jury plus the amount of the non-economic damages award not to exceed $750,000; or,
  • $200,000.

Texas punitive damages laws have exceptions to the above caps. Generally, caps do not apply when the defendant’s conduct constitutes a felony. Examples of cases that might not have a punitive damages cap include claims involving:

  • Aggravated assault
  • Murder
  • Sexual assault
  • Aggravated kidnapping
  • Trafficking of humans

The amount of punitive damages could be based on the value of your compensatory damages. Therefore, our legal team works to maximize the value of compensatory damages to increase the amount of punitive damages you might receive for a personal injury lawsuit. 

In some cases, a court might lower punitive damages if the judge determines that the amount of damages awarded by the jury violates the defendant’s right to due process. The United States Supreme Court found that a ratio of nine to one was generally appropriate for punitive damages awards.

Texas courts consider three factors when deciding if a punitive damages award is constitutional. Those factors are:

  • How reprehensible was the conduct of the defendant;
  • The difference between the punitive damages award and the civil penalties imposed in similar cases; and, 
  • The difference between the harm sustained by the plaintiff and the award amount.

Punitive damages are awarded in a small number of personal injury lawsuits. An experienced Texas personal injury lawyer assesses your case to determine if punitive damages could be justified. 

Schedule a Free Consultation With Our Friendswood Personal Injury Lawyers 

The Law Firm of Alton C. Todd Personal Injury Lawyers works diligently to recover the full value for your personal injury case. We analyze the facts of your case to pursue all sources of compensation, including punitive damages when applicable. Contact us today by calling (281) 992-8633 to schedule a free case evaluation with a Friendswood personal injury attorney to learn how much your case is worth.