Strategies for Defending Against a Punitive Damages Claim
In Texas, it is possible for a plaintiff to seek punitive damages (also known as exemplary damages) by alleging that you, or your insured, were grossly negligent or engaged in reckless and wanton conduct. The public policy objective of punitive damages is to “punish” the defendant by requiring them to pay above and beyond the claimed economic and non-economic damages of the plaintiff. The rationale is that an award of punitive damages may help deter others from committing similar egregious acts in the future.
Challenging a Punitive Damages Claim
Fortunately, the threshold for seeking punitive damages in Texas is quite high. A plaintiff needs to provide sufficient evidence showing that the defendant’s actions displayed an utter lack of care or concern for the well-being of others.
There also needs to be evidence of actual economic damages, which means the plaintiff needs to introduce evidence substantiating their claim for economic loss through the existence of medical expenses and lost wages as a result of the incident.
As mentioned, a plaintiff must also show that the defendant engaged in some type of aggravated or egregious conduct that is considered grossly negligent or reckless. To establish gross negligence, the plaintiff needs to convince a jury that, at the time of the accident, a reasonable person in the same shoes as the defendant would have known what they were doing was extremely dangerous and a risk to the safety of others.
Much Higher Standard of Proof
Your Brownsville defense lawyers can, and should, focus their energy in challenging the sufficiency of the plaintiff’s evidence for pursuing punitive damages. Why? Because, under Texas law, a plaintiff must provide “clear and convincing evidence” that the defendant’s conduct was grossly negligent, rather than proving it by the preponderance of the evidence. The clear and convincing evidentiary burden is much closer to the “beyond all reasonable doubt” standard you commonly encounter in criminal cases, whereas the preponderance of the evidence standard is basically a 51-to-49 proposition. This means the plaintiff’s evidence only needs to be somewhat convincing for a jury to award economic and non-economic damages, but the percentage threshold is much higher for an award of punitive damages.
Cap on Punitive Damages
Another area of strength for a defendant confronted with a punitive damages claim is the fact that the amount of money that be reasonably expected to be recovered via a punitive damage award is capped. The Texas Damages Act capped punitive damages to the value of two times the amount a jury awards for economic damages and an amount equal to what a jury awards for non-economic damages, but no more than $750,000. If a jury decides not to award any money for economic damages, the cap for any punitive damage award is set at $200,000.
Speak to a Brownsville Insurance Defense Attorney Today
If you or your company is sued by a plaintiff alleging personal injury, you need to be aware of this potential additional form of damages that many plaintiff’s attorneys attempt to obtain. This is why you need experienced and skilled defense attorneys who are ready to take on these types of lawsuits. The Brownsville law firm of Colvin, Saenz, Rodriguez & Kennamer L.L.P. possesses decades of experience in this area of law. Contact our office today to schedule a meeting.