When you choose to work with a personal injury lawyer on a car accident case in Navasota, TX or Rockville, TX, you will be given the opportunity to list all the damages you suffered. While no case of negligent driving is excusable, there is a special category of damages, punitive damages, intended to punish drivers who take extreme risks at the expense of others.
What Are “Punitive Damages” in a Personal Injury Case?
As the term “punitive” implies, punitive damages are used to punish. These are damages demanded of drivers who have been found guilty of gross negligence or intentional harm. When a defendant is found liable for punitive damages, he or she is expected to pay more than the amount of money necessary to compensate the plaintiff for medical bills and other accident-related expenses.
What Is the Difference Between Punitive Damages and Compensatory Damages?
When you file a personal injury claim or press charges against a negligent party, you have the right to collect compensation for your losses, provided that you have evidence to prove that the liable party caused your injuries. The most common types of damages include:
- Medical bills
- Lost wages
- Pain and suffering
- Emotional distress
Damages in these categories are “compensatory,” meaning that when the liable pays, he or she is “compensating” you for the harm he or she caused. For example, if you received treatment at the ER, you should receive compensation for an amount equal to your medical bills plus an additional amount to account for the pain you experienced. While physical pain does not have a clear-cut price tag attached, personal injury law specifies that it can still be compensated monetarily.
Punitive damages are sometimes called “exemplary damage” because they are designed to make an example out of the liable party, thereby deterring others from engaging in similar negligence in the future. Unlike compensatory damages, they are not associated with any specific loss suffered by the plaintiff. Rather, they are incurred as a result of the negligent behavior that led to the accident.
When Can a Driver Be Held Liable for Punitive Damages?
Punitive damages are reserved for cases involving serious misconduct, and the plaintiff must have ample evidence to demonstrate that the defendant acted with gross negligence. Situations that might merit punitive damages include:
- Road rage
- Drunk driving
- Driving while under the influence of drugs
Road rage occurs when a driver engages in belligerent behavior intended to intimidate other drivers, bicyclists, or pedestrians. Drivers also engage in road rage when they release their frustration in aggressive ways. Yelling, hand gestures, speeding, and driving recklessly are all behaviors that could constitute road rage. The distracted, unpredictable nature of enraged drivers often leads to accidents, especially when other motorists are taken off-guard or become nervous in response.
In a personal injury case, witness testimonies and surveillance footage can be used as evidence of road rage. Any cell phone videos of the incident taken by bystanders can also be presented in court.
In Texas, it is illegal to drive with a blood alcohol concentration of 0.08% or higher. However, a driver can be charged with a DWI any time the alcohol in his or her body affects his or her driving, even at lower levels of concentration.
In addition to being liable for compensating your losses and paying punitive damages, a driver found guilty of a DWI can be subjected to a $2,000 fine, 180 days in prison, and a year-long license suspension on the first offense. The sentencing can be more severe when:
- The driver has multiple offenses on his or her record
- The accidents involved a fatalities
- There was at least one passenger under the age of 15 in the convicted driver’s car
Driving While Under the Influence of Drugs
In Texas, the statute which specifies penalties for driving under the influence of alcohol also applies to driving while under the influence of other drugs. Drugs which can lead to impaired driving include marijuana, over-the-counter medications, controlled substances, and substances which produce a physiological affect when taken in combination.
Who Is Awarded Punitive Damages?
Like compensatory damages, punitive damages are awarded to the plaintiff in a personal injury case. In many cases, the amount of punitive damages to be awarded is calculated as a percentage of the compensatory damages.
How Much Money Can Be Awarded in Punitive Damages?
The limit for punitive damages in Texas is $200,000 or double the amount of the economic damages plus the value of the noneconomic damages. The defendant is usually liable for the larger of the two figures. Economic damages are losses that can be tallied monetarily, such as medical expenses and lost wages. Noneconomic damages are subjective losses, such as emotional distress and physical discomfort.
How to Choose the Best Personal Injury Lawyer for Your Punitive Damages Case
Winning punitive damages involves understanding complex personal injury laws and submitting ample evidence according to strict court protocols. The skill of your attorney will be a major factor in determining whether or not your case is successful. When you are choosing a personal injury lawyer in Navasota, TX or Rockville, TX, it is best to consider the following qualities:
Has your attorney won large payouts for clients in the past? Does he or she have experience in cases involving automobile accidents? Many factors can contribute to the complexity of a car accident case, such as whether or not a government vehicle was involved and if there were any fatalities. When looking for a lawyer, try to find one who has argued cases similar to yours.
Negotiating with insurance companies and litigating in court require two different skill sets. If you have evidence to back your personal injury case, there is a strong chance that you will be able to win a substantial settlement offer without going to court, however, there is always the chance that the insurance company will fight back against your claim. If the insurance company refuses to settle, you have the right to press charges for the amount you believe you are owed.
Cases with the potential to result in punitive damages usually involve serious accidents that could be costly for the insurance company. Therefore, securing a settlement offer may be more difficult and a court battle is more likely. Your lawyer should have a strong track record of both securing settlement offers and taking cases all the way to trial.
A Fair Compensation Structure
While some attorneys charge a flat rate for their services, others consider that their clients might be dealing with imposing medical bills and economic insecurity. In personal injury law, it is common (although not universal) for attorneys to work on a contingency fee and provide the initial consultation free of charge.
Get Sound Legal Representation in Navasota, TX or Rockville, TX
Fighting for punitive damages requires an aggressive attorney who will stop at nothing to hold the liable party accountable for taking egregious risks. We have experience litigating cases in every Brazos county and district court and have brought in millions on behalf of clients involved in automobile accidents. For a free opportunity to discuss your case, reach out to us by contacting Brian Gutierrez, Personal Injury Trial Lawyer.