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What Are Punitive Damages and When Can You Get Them?

When you are hurt by another person’s actions, you may qualify for legal action. In Texas, victims of negligence have the right to file a personal injury lawsuit against these individuals. Through their claims, they can recover financial compensation for the damages that they suffered.

In especially egregious cases, a personal injury victim may qualify for a special type of damages known as punitive damages. This form of compensation is intended to punish a defendant for especially reckless or dangerous behavior, as long as the case meets certain requirements. Ensure that you receive the justice that you deserve, talk to a personal injury attorney today about your case. 

Compensatory Damages in Personal Injury Lawsuits

In most personal injury lawsuits, plaintiffs typically qualify for two types of compensatory damages: economic and non-economic. These damages are intended to compensate the plaintiff for the losses that he or she suffered as a result of the defendant’s actions. 

In the case of economic damages, these losses are financial, such as medical expenses, lost wages, and property damage. On the other hand, non-economic damages refer to the physical and emotional pain and suffering that the plaintiff experienced.

The Purpose of Punitive Damages

Punitive damages are not intended to compensate a victim for the losses that he or she suffered. Instead, they are meant to punish a defendant for dangerous, fraudulent, or reckless actions. By adding additional compensation on top of economic and non-economic damages, the court hopes to deter the defendant from committing the same acts again. 

Who Is Eligible for Punitive Damages in Texas?

Not all personal injury victims are eligible for punitive damages. According to Section 41.003 of the Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code, a plaintiff must show through clear and convincing evidence that the harm that he or she suffered was the result of gross negligence, fraud, or malice. Additionally, the jury must unanimously decide that the plaintiff is eligible for punitive damages before they can be awarded. 

  • Fraud: Fraud refers to the act of willfully making a false statement, concealing information, or misrepresenting facts in an attempt to induce a person to act on that representation. If a fraudulent claim leads to a plaintiff’s injury, that plaintiff would be eligible for punitive damages.
  • Malice: In a personal injury case, malice refers to a specific intent to cause injury or harm to another person. For example, a driver who runs another motorist off the road in an act of rage or a property owner who pushes a visitor off of a roof intend to harm the victim. These parties may be found to have acted in malice.
  • Gross Negligence: Most personal injury cases involve negligence, or a failure to uphold a certain duty of care that led to a plaintiff’s injuries. Gross negligence, on the other hand, involves an act or omission that has an extreme degree of risk for harm to others. The defendant was aware or should have been aware of the risk and chose to act with a conscious indifference to the safety of other people.

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Calculate Your Damages with a Texas Personal Injury Lawyer

When you file a personal injury lawsuit, you want to ensure that you are recovering the full value of your damages. This includes economic, non-economic, and, in some cases, punitive damages. In these situations, it is important to work with a Texas personal injury lawyer.

An attorney can calculate your settlement, identify your eligibility for punitive damages, and craft a compelling case in your favor. After your accident, schedule a free case consultation to explore your legal options.