Are Punitive Damages Available in a Texas Auto Accident Case?
Texas does allow punitive damages to be awarded in auto accident lawsuits provided that certain requirements are met. The most important is the plaintiff is able to establish that the defendant acted with gross negligence.
What Are Punitive Damages?
Before getting into how punitive damages are awarded, it is important to fully understand what punitive damages are and why they exist.
Punitive damages are different from compensatory damages in that they are not meant to give a plaintiff back something that was lost. They are meant to punish the defendant for conduct that was especially reckless or malicious and demonstrate to society that the conduct displayed by the defendant will not be tolerated.
They are an attempt to right the scales of justice while also acting as a deterrent
When Are Punitive Damages Awarded in a Car Accident?
In order for punitive damages in Texas to be awarded, there must first be actual damages. These include damages like medical bills, pain and suffering, mental anguish, and loss of wages. Without actual damages, punitive damages cannot occur.
Second, you must be able to demonstrate that the defendant acted with gross negligence. This means showing:
- That a reasonable person in the same situation as the defendant would have known that their behavior or conduct involved an extreme degree of risk.
- That the defendant knew of the risk but acted with disregard.
The most common example of gross negligence in an auto accident is when a person is injured or killed by a drunk driver. When a drunk driver gets behind the will, they have made a deliberate choice to ignore the obvious risk they could pose to others.
Another instance in which gross negligence can be applied is in an accident that results from an illegal street race. A reasonable person would know that participating in an illegal street race involves an extreme degree of risk to other drivers, and a driver would have willfully chosen to disregard those risks upon participating.
Why Is it Important to Have an Experienced Attorney when Seeking Punitive Damages?
One thing to consider when seeking punitive damages is that they require a stricter burden of proof of general negligence.
In the vast majority of civil claims, an attorney must convince a jury that a plaintiff has proven their case by a “preponderance of evidence”. This means that if a jury finds the plaintiff’s claims 51% credible and the defendant’s 49%, the burden of proof has been met.
Gross negligence must be proven by “clear and convincing evidence”. This requires that the plaintiff prove his allegations by establishing a firm belief that the defendant acted with gross negligence. While “clear and convincing evidence” is not quite as stringent as “beyond a reasonable doubt”, it certainly requires a skilled and experienced attorney to demonstrate. For reference, “clear and convincing evidence” is the same standard required by courts to remove a child from their parents’ care and into a foster home.
What Should I Do If I Believe My Car Crash Was the Result of Gross Negligence?
If you were involved in an accident in which you believe an individual acted with gross negligence, contact Thomas J. Henry immediately. Thomas J. Henry has successfully tried numerous cases involving gross negligence and has secured millions of dollars in punitive damages.
Our Texas car accident lawyers are available to respond to auto accidents at any hour, day or night. We understand that the immediate acquisition of evidence is paramount to understanding how the accident occurred. Remember, your choice does matter. Contact our offices – we are available 24/7, nights and weekends and we represent clients/victims all over the country.