Determining how much punitive damages you might be entitled to in Texas can be difficult. The state has certain factors that courts use to help determine the amount that a jury may award. The article covers these factors and gives examples of how courts have used them to determine punitive damages in the past.
1. The Behavior of the Defendant
If you’re asking, How Are Punitive Damages Determined? Many factors can help determine the value a jury awards for punitive damages. Moreover, suppose the defendant’s conduct was outrageous in character and so extreme in degree as to go beyond all possible bounds of decency and every notion of justice. In that case, the jury may find it necessary to increase punitive damages.
In these cases, courts typically consider evidence about the harm they’ve done and decide how much of a punishment this kind of injury deserves. For example, behavior such as fraud or reckless disregard for others can lead to more significant punitive damages. However, it’s important to note that even with the assessment of punitive damages, there’s a cap for them. The cap may depend on the value of compensatory damages.
2. The Harm the Defendant Has Caused
A court awards punitive damages to punish defendants and deter them from repeating their wrongdoing. The defendant’s wrongful behavior is relevant, but it’s not the only factor determining the value of damages they should pay for. For example, if a person intentionally damaged someone else’s property, the damage done will be much more severe than if they did so accidentally.
A jury may also consider whether a defendant attempted to conceal its wrongdoing or minimize its harm before deciding on what type of damages the person should pay. For example, if a company knowingly violated pollution laws by dumping toxic waste into water, it would likely be ordered to pay more punitive damages than a company that did not deliberately. The degree of harm could range from emotional distress to death and can help determine how much will be necessary for this type of injury.
3. The Financial Circumstances of the Defendant
In determining how much to award as punitive damages, a jury may consider any evidence of a defendant’s financial condition, including their:
- Real property holdings
- Frequent access to substantial amounts of cash or liquid assets
- Ownership interest in closely held corporations or business entities
- Ability to pay for personal needs and services, such as education, housing, food, and clothing.
The defendant’s net worth is not an absolute measure of what a jury should award in punitive damages; however, it is one factor the jury should consider when deciding on an appropriate amount. Additionally, jurors should be aware that they have discretion in awarding punitive damages up to three times the amount awarded as compensatory damages, so long as they find clear and convincing evidence that the defendant acted with malice or showed reckless indifference to human life.
4. The Level of Defendant’s Responsibility for Your Injuries
Another crucial factor to consider is the level of responsibility of a defendant. If a defendant intentionally or recklessly committed an act with knowledge or should have had such knowledge it would harm you, then an assessment of punitive damages may be necessary. If a defendant is fully aware of the risks associated with their actions and still chooses to take those actions, they can face higher amounts of punitive damages.
An example might be if a driver was aware they were over the legal alcohol limit but chose to drive anyway and caused injuries. A judge could award more punitive damages in this case because the driver knowingly put themselves and others at risk by choosing not to call for help or seek alternative means instead of continuing to drive under these circumstances, making them reckless and negligent.
5. The Incident that Led to the Accident
Information regarding the specifics of the incident can help determine how much punitive damages are appropriate. For example, if a driver knew they were intoxicated and still got behind the wheel, they may deserve more punitive damages than if they were sober and made a mistake. The severity of the injury can also have an impact on this decision.
More severe injuries will often warrant higher punitive damages awards. If you suffer injuries in an accident, whether a car accident, a slip, and fall, or any other accident, you need to understand your legal rights and know what factors could affect your award.
Understanding these factors could help insight into whether you may be entitled to punitive damages in your Texas personal injury case. Remember, it is not always about who was more at fault, but what a jury would decide is appropriate, depending on the circumstances. If you are considering filing a lawsuit for a personal injury, speak with an experienced attorney today to learn more about your legal rights and options.