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What Is the Difference Between Compensatory Damages and Punitive Damages?

Posted in Personal Injury on October 16, 2020

The goal of a personal injury claim in Texas is to recover damages, or financial compensation, for the losses incurred due to an accident. The civil courts in Texas allow for the recovery of compensatory and punitive damages from a negligent or at-fault party. Learn the difference between these two main categories of damage awards to understand what your case may be worth.

What Are Compensatory Damages?

Compensatory damages reimburse an accident victim for the tangible and intangible losses he or she suffered because of the at-fault party’s negligence. They serve to make the victim whole again or return the victim to the condition he or she was in before the accident. Someone may owe you compensatory damages in Texas if the courts find that person to have more likely than not caused your losses through a breach of duty of care. Compensatory damages can award you for many different types of economic and noneconomic losses.

  • Past and future medical needs
  • Disability-related expenses
  • Surgeries and rehabilitation
  • Medications and devices
  • Lost wages
  • Property damages
  • Travel costs
  • Legal and attorney’s fees
  • Pain and suffering
  • Emotional injuries
  • Psychological harm
  • Loss of consortium
  • Wrongful death damages

The amount awarded in economic compensatory damages will accurately reflect your expenses from the accident or injury, such as medical bills. It is up to a jury how much to award in noneconomic damages. Hiring a personal injury lawyer could help you maximize the compensatory damage award you receive. Compensatory damages are much more common than punitive damages in Texas. Every successful personal injury case will have compensatory damages, but only a few will end in punitive damages. Your lawyer may seek punitive damages, however, if the circumstances of your case warrant doing so.

What Are Punitive Damages?

The word punitive means intended to punish. In a civil claim, punitive damages are an additional financial award sometimes granted to an injured accident victim as a means to penalize the defendant. A judge in Texas may award punitive damages, known as exemplary damages in the state’s statute, if there is proof of the defendant’s gross negligence or malice. For instance, if the party that caused your accident did so on purpose with the intention of harming you, you could receive punitive damages for the defendant’s malice. Gross negligence is a degree of negligence that a reasonable person would have recognized as presenting a substantial risk of harm to others.
In Texas, the civil courts cap the amount of punitive damages a claimant can receive at $200,000 or twice the value of economic damages plus an equal amount of noneconomic damages (up to $750,000 maximum) – whichever is greater. It is generally up to a judge’s discretion how much to award a plaintiff in punitive damages. The courts do not give punitive damages to every plaintiff involved in a personal injury case.

How Much Is Your Case Worth?

It is normal to wonder how much your personal injury case is worth as an injured victim in Texas. Your future could depend on how much you recover from the negligent party. The value of your case will depend on how the accident impacted you, as well as how much money you had to spend in related medical bills and damages. This number will reflect how much you may receive in compensatory damages. Claimants in Texas can recover tens of thousands to millions of dollars in compensatory damages, depending on the severity of their losses.
If you are curious whether you qualify for punitive damages against a defendant, speak to an attorney for a free case evaluation. An investigation into the defendant’s actions and behaviors could reveal gross negligence, malice, fraud, default or intent to harm. These actions could qualify you for an additional punitive award on top of reimbursement for your damages. Discuss the value of your unique personal injury case with an attorney in Texas today.