Unlike compensatory damages, which aim to indemnify a plaintiff for their losses, punitive damages are meant to penalize the wrongdoer and help prevent future misconduct.
Punitive damages, also known as exemplary damages, according to the Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code §40.001(5), are additional monetary awards granted by the court in personal injury cases as a form of punishment for the defendant’s willful or reckless behavior.
When and how are punitive damages awarded?
The criteria for awarding punitive damages are stringent; the injured party must demonstrate that the defendant’s actions were grossly negligent and exhibited a high level of recklessness, fraud or malice. The burden of proof lies with the plaintiff, and they must provide clear and convincing evidence to support their claim.
The severity of the defendant’s misconduct is crucial in establishing the amount of punitive damages awarded. Courts typically consider the degree of harm caused to the plaintiff and the level of recklessness or malice exhibited by the defendant.
The financial position of the defendant is also taken into account. While punitive damages are meant to be significant enough to serve as a deterrent, they should not bankrupt the wrongdoer. Courts strive to strike a balance between punishment and reasonableness in awarding punitive damages.
Caps on punitive damages
As mentioned, the defendant’s financial position is considered when determining how much the claimant can receive in a personal injury case. As per the Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code §41.008, the exemplary damages should not be more than an amount equal to the greater of twice the economic damages; plus, an amount determined by the jury as non-economic damages should not exceed $750,000 or $200,000.
However, it’s important to note that these conditions do not apply to personal injury cases in which the defendant’s conduct can be described as a felony or if their actions were intentional.
Punitive damages in personal injury cases serve as a critical component of the legal system’s effort to promote justice, deter wrongdoing and protect public safety. However, assessing punitive damages involves strict criteria and considerations, and – as such – they are rarely awarded.