When are punitive damages available for Texas injury cases?
Written by Greg on November 8, 2013
The law of punitive damages or “exemplary damages” has been evolving for many years now. The evolution process of punitive damages has involved both legislative changes and court interpretations which have impacted and intended to limit the application of punitive damages in personal injury litigation.
Courts across the country at all state and federal levels have been following precedent to reduce punitive damage awards. The US Supreme Court in the case of Campbell vs. State Farm set the stage by reducing punitive damages requiring them now to be proportionate to the actual loss or damages suffered by the specific plaintiff.
Punitive or exemplary damages had previously been a deterrent to many potential wrongdoers in providing financial punishment for inappropriately exposing the community to risk. While the deterrent factor is still there, the limitations both on the statutory state level and in the courts have reduced the effectiveness of reducing wrongdoer’s conduct by punishing them financially.
In Texas, punitive damages are covered under Civil Practice and Remedies Code Section 41. Generally, the application of punitive damages in Texas depends upon the bad acts of the defendant and to some extent the ability of the plaintiff to prove actual knowledge of the risks. The statute provides a plaintiff may obtain punitive or exemplary damages only from:
* Gross negligence
And the plaintiff must prove the application of elements of exemplary damages by “clear and convincing evidence” which is a much higher standard than required for actual damages or even arguably the standard used to convict people of criminal actions, which is beyond a reasonable doubt.
Further, courts in the state of Texas have made clear that a corporation may only be liable for punitive damages in situations where the corporation itself commits the gross negligence or act giving rise to the exemplary damages claim.
When corporations or individuals disregard specific safety policies or choose to disregard specific safety rules they may or may not be subjected to exemplary damage claims depending on the specific factual basis of the claim for exemplary damages. While this seems ambiguous, as a general rule a plaintiff must show a conscious disregard for a situation, which has a serious risk of substantial injury or harm to the plaintiff.