Sometimes in personal injury law, the defendant’s negligence is so far over the line that simply compensating the plaintiff for their injuries is not enough. In Texas, that is where exemplary damages can serve as a financial penalty. Hopefully, by paying extra damages, the defendant will learn that their actions are not acceptable and stop putting people in danger.

What are exemplary damages?

Commonly known as punitive damages, exemplary damages serve a different purpose than compensatory damages, which are supposed to make up for economic and noneconomic harm the plaintiff suffered due to the defendant’s negligence. For example, after a car accident with a drunk driver, a victim may have terrible back pain that requires surgery and physical therapy. The victim may have to quit her job because of her disability. Compensatory damages make up for her lost past and future wages, medical bills, as well as her chronic pain and reduced enjoyment of life.

When are exemplary damages awarded?

If the jury finds that the defendant acted with fraud, malice or gross negligence, it can decide to award exemplary damages on top of compensatory damages. However, the burden is on the plaintiff to prove that they are entitled to exemplary damages, and by “clear and convincing evidence” — a higher standard of proof than standard personal injury liability.

Also, Texas law strictly limits the amount of exemplary damages juries can award. It can be no more than the greater of:

  • Two times the economic damages, plus the amount of noneconomic damages (the latter not to exceed $75,000); or
  • $200,000

The law waives the cap when the underlying injuries were caused by one of several felony crimes, such as murder and aggravated assault.

Discuss what damages to pursue with your lawyer

Proving that you should receive exemplary damages can be a challenge. Your personal injury attorney will go over your case with you and explain whether it will be a likely factor in your case.