What Are Punitive Damages in an Accident Case?

Negligent driving is a serious issue that causes harm to tens of thousands of Houston, TX residents every year. Personal injury laws exist to reduce the instances of negligent driving while providing legal recourse for people who have been needlessly injured. Finding a qualified automobile accident lawyer is the first step towards understanding all of your options for holding the other driver accountable, including pursuing punitive damages.

What Are Punitive Damages in an Accident Case?

The term “damages” refers to all of the losses you might experience as a result of a car accident. The main categories of damages are:

  • Property damages
  • Economic damages
  • Noneconomic damages
  • Punitive damages

The first three types of damages are usually easier to pursue because they are designed to compensate you for specific difficulties that the other driver caused. For example, if you needed to have a series of costly medical treatments after an accident that was not your fault, the liable party would be responsible for covering your care. Punitive damages, on the other hand, are not compensatory. They are designed to punish irresponsible drivers.

When Are Punitive Damages Available?

Punitive damages are reserved for cases of egregious misconduct. As such, they can only be applied in instances of gross negligence or intentional harm. The most common actions that warrant punitive damages are:

  • Drunk driving
  • Driving while under the influence of drugs
  • Road rage

How Will You Know If You Can Collect Punitive Damages?

The best way to get the most value from your car accident claim is by speaking with a personal injury attorney. Your attorney will review the details of the crash and the evidence that is available to you. His or her objective is to help you hold the other driver accountable to the greatest extent possible.

By conducting a thorough investigation that includes a review of surveillance footage, witness statements, medical records, the police report, and the physical damage done to the vehicles, your attorney will be able to identify opportunities for you to increase your payout. If the evidence reveals that you might be entitled to collect punitive damages, your attorney will officially submit your grounds for arguing that the other driver deserves to be punished for his or her actions.

How Much Money Can You Collect From Punitive Damages?

The money collected from punitive damages goes to the injured party in addition to the compensatory damages. In Texas, you can be eligible to collect up to $200,000 in punitive damages or twice the value of the economic damages plus an equal amount of the noneconomic damages for a maximum of $750,000. The greater of the two figures will be applied.

How Are the Other Types of Damages You Can Collect Determined?

Since the value of the punitive damages can depend on the other types of damages the claimant receives, it is important to understand all of the factors that go into determining the value of an auto accident claim. Here is an overview on the other types of damages you might be eligible to receive:

Economic Damages

Economic damages are losses that have a clear financial cost attached to them. The most common types of economic damages pursued in car accident cases are medical expenses and lost wages. Calculating economic damages is usually a matter of adding up your bills and using accounting methods to determine how much income you would have received if you hadn’t been forced to take time off to recover from your injuries.

Calculating economic damages is more complicated in the case of severe injuries that leave the claimant permanently disabled. Catastrophic injuries like brain trauma and damage to the spinal cord can incur a lifetime of treatments and the inability to ever return to the same job. Since predicting the cost of medical care and the rate of compensation for jobs in the future is difficult, economists are often brought in as expert witnesses to determine the value of the claim.

Noneconomic Damages

Noneconomic damages are losses that create physical pain or emotional distress as opposed to monetary expenses. There is no obvious value attached to them, so they must be valued subjectively according to the degree of distress the claimant experiences. Some examples of non-economic damages are:

  • Pain and suffering
  • Disfigurement
  • Loss of the ability to walk, read, or hear
  • Loss of enjoyable activities

Property Damages

It is important to understand how to pursue property damages, even though they do not factor into the determination of punitive damages. Property damages include any harm that was done to a vehicle or possessions of value, such as a smartphone or a laptop. Property damage claims are filed separately from personal injury claims, but your automobile accident lawyer can advise you on the submission process.

What Evidence Can Support Your Grounds for Punitive Damages?

Before a plaintiff can collect punitive damages, the jury must first agree that the defendant is liable for the damages. Next, the court must come to a unanimous decision regarding the amount of money the defendant is responsible for paying in punitive damages. Therefore, collecting punitive damage requires extensive evidence of gross neglect or malice.

In order to prove gross negligence, the plaintiff must demonstrate that the defendant was aware of the risk he or she was taking when he or she failed to uphold the duty of care to the plaintiff. The term “duty of care” refers to reasonable measures which must be observed to keep others safe. Your lawyer might present the following evidence in a punitive damages case:

  • A positive blood alcohol content test result
  • A positive drug test
  • Surveillance footage showing the other driver behaving recklessly
  • Witnesses who can confirm a case of road rage

How to Choose an Automobile Accident Lawyer in Houston, TX

Pursing punitive damages can be a cathartic way to get closure after you have been involved in a serious accident that resulted from another person’s irresponsible behavior. Additionally, holding drivers accountable in cases of gross negligence can help make the roads safer for others by showing all drivers that misconduct has severe consequences. That’s why punitive damages are sometimes referred to as “exemplary damages.”

Meeting the high standard of evidence required to collect punitive damages requires the input of a skilled lawyer. Here are some qualities to look for:

Past Experience

You should chose a lawyer who  specializes in personal injury law. Specifically, you should look for someone who has successfully helped clients collect punitive damages in the past.

Attention to Detail

Proving gross negligence will require your lawyer to dig into the details of the accident and collect every scrap of evidence that could be useful. During your initial consultation, a qualified lawyer will ask key questions regarding the crash and listen carefully as you explain everything you remember.

Good Communication Skills

Punitive damages are most often available in lengthy cases involving serious charges. You will want to work with a highly professional lawyer who can communicate efficiently as complexities in the case arise.

Ask Us If You Have Grounds for Pursing Punitive Damages

If you are considering pursing punitive damages, chances are you were involved in a serious car accident. Our attorneys in Houston, TX are available to review your case and help you go over all of the damages you might be eligible to collect. To get in touch with us, contact Abraham, Watkins, Nichols, Agosto, Aziz & Stogner.