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What Are Punitive Damages in a Personal Injury Case?

If you have been injured by someone’s mistake, it can be challenging to figure out your next step. Sometimes a quick internet search can make things even more confusing, as there are numerous legal terms to decipher and no two situations are the same. So while you’ll want to consult a personal injury lawyer in Houston, TX to ensure you receive fair compensation, here’s what you need to know about collecting damages for your personal injury case.

What Are Punitive Damages in a Personal Injury Case?

Damages is the legal term for money awarded to you to compensate for an injury or loss. Punitive, special compensatory, and general compensatory damages are frequently seen in personal injury cases. Punitive damages are also called exemplary damages. They are designed to be a punishment and deter the person responsible for the accident, the defendant, from committing the same dangerous or malicious action again.

Compensatory damages exist to compensate the victim for their losses from the incident. They are typically concrete and easy to quantify. However, they do include general compensatory damages, which are non-tangible and include emotional stress or pain and suffering. The plaintiff (accident victim) can seek multiple types of damages during a personal injury claim or lawsuit.

How Do Punitive Damages Work?

Punitive damages are damages on top of compensatory damages. These damages are a way to punish the defendant for their harmful behavior. The purpose of punitive damages is to dissuade the at-fault party, and others, from behaving dangerously in the future.

For an action to be severe enough to warrant punitive damages, it must either be grossly negligent, which means exceptionally reckless. Or wanton and willful, which means the behavior was intentionally harmful. Victims who seek punitive damages will be required to prove that the defendant was deliberately reckless or malicious.

Calculating the Amount

The amount awarded is determined based on the appropriate punishment for the defendant, not necessarily what the victim deserves. A jury or judge will choose the total punitive damages awarded and consider many factors before deciding on a number.

While most states limit the total that can be awarded as punitive damages, as long as it is legal, the jury or judge can choose an amount at their discretion. That means factors such as the defendant’s financial status, the severity of the behavior, and how directly the defendant contributed to the accident will be considered when the amount is determined.

Texas: Laws Regarding Punitive Damages

In Texas, punitive damages will only be awarded if the victim asks for them in their lawsuit. The state will not pursue them without the plaintiff’s request, so you’ll want to talk to your lawyer about whether your situation could qualify you for punitive damages. If your lawyer believes it does, you will request punitive and compensatory damages, and the court will decide if awarding punitive damages is appropriate.

There are limits to the punitive damages the court can award in the State of Texas. In cases where the court doesn’t grant the victim compensatory damages, the punitive damages are limited to $200,000. In cases where compensatory damages are awarded, punitive damages are capped at double the amount of the compensatory damages plus an equal amount of general damages to a maximum of $750,000.

How do Compensatory Damages Work?

Compensatory damages provide you financial reimbursement for the injuries or property loss you experienced due to another person’s negligence or malicious behavior. The purpose of compensatory damages is to fix the damage the incident did to your life.

From compensating you for lost wages or reimbursing you for the medical care you will need in the future, compensatory damages are many victims’ best chance at rebuilding their life after an injury. There are sub-categories of compensatory damages, special and general.

Special Damages

Special damages offer the victim a monetary sum for expenses amassed from the accident. For example, hospital and physical therapy bills, prescriptions, and lost wages all belong under the umbrella term of special compensation.

Property damage does too, so vehicle repair bills and replacement costs of items lost during the accident fall into this category. If your injury prevents you from being able to complete household tasks and you need to hire outside help, that cost can be included as well.

Calculating Special Damages

To claim special compensation, you’ll need to be able to quantify your financial loss and back it up with receipts. Since you’ll need a paper trail to back up your request, tracking every dollar you spend due to the accident is crucial. While you may not be reimbursed for every receipt, throwing out invoices you don’t need later is more manageable than collecting ones you need after the fact.

However, you aren’t alone if you haven’t managed to keep track of all your documentation following the accident. Individuals suffering from severe injuries may feel overwhelmed trying to gather the necessary documentation. That doesn’t mean you can’t receive the compensation you deserve; an accident attorney can help you collect the documentation you need to make a claim.

Don’t Forget Future Care

When you’re totaling up your medical bills and accident expenses, make sure you don’t forget to account for any ongoing therapy or treatment you’ll need. Accidents frequently cause injuries that can result in long-lasting care and cost. Many victims who file their claims without legal aid forget to account for these future expenses.

Proving how much care will cost you in the future can be challenging. You’ll need an accident attorney to help you make a strong case for why it is necessary and to prove your projected costs are correct. Your lawyer will also help you find expert witnesses who can prove to the court and judge that your needs are legitimate.

General Damages

General damages are the adverse effects from the accident that are difficult to assign a dollar sign to but still alter the victim’s life. Physical pain and suffering, emotional and mental anguish, disfigurement, and a diminished quality of life are considered general damages. What makes these effects challenging to assign value to is that no two people will respond the same way to an accident.

For example, even if two individuals experience the same accident and suffer the same injury, their bodies and minds will not react the same way. One person may have a higher pain tolerance and suffer less emotional distress following the injury. The other may have a weakened immune system and get an infection while recovering from the accident.

Calculating General Damages

An experienced lawyer is your best asset when claiming general damages. They will research cases similar to yours to determine how much money is typically awarded. Your lawyer will also present your injury in the most sympathetic light possible so that the jury and judge are empathetic to your suffering.

Find a Personal Injury Lawyer in Houston, TX

The best way to know if you could be eligible for punitive damages is to talk to a personal injury lawyer in Houston, TX. They can evaluate your case and see if there is enough evidence to prove the at-fault party was acting with gross negligence or maliciousness. A skilled lawyer will be able to help you receive the maximum amount of compensation for your damages.

 Even if your situation doesn’t meet the criteria to collect punitive damages, you still deserve to be compensated for your injuries and property loss. Victims who work with experienced legal professionals achieve more lucrative settlements than those who choose to represent themselves. Don’t leave money on the table. Contact Houston Injury Lawyers, PLLC, and let our team handle your personal injury or car accident lawsuit today.

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