Bay City Punitive Damages Lawyer | Bay City Exemplary Damages Attorney | Bay City Punishment Damages
When are Punitive Damages available in Texas?
Texas is among only a handful of states that allow punitive damages awards in successful wrongful death lawsuits.
Although the goal of the law is generally to compensate plaintiffs for their injuries, a plaintiff may be awarded punitive damages as a way of punishing the defendant and preventing similar conduct in the future. In this regard, punitive damages are separate and distinct from compensatory damages, which compensate victims for financial losses suffered due to the defendant’s conduct.
However, punitive damages are not available in all Texas wrongful death lawsuits. Punitive damages are only awarded when the defendant’s behavior was reckless, malicious, or intentional. Even in cases where these criteria are met, however, a court will not grant punitive damages as a matter of law. Instead, a jury may, at its discretion, decide on an award of punitive damages when they feel it is warranted by the egregiousness of the defendant’s actions.
Additionally, punitive damages may be available in workers’ compensation, or workers’ comp, cases where gross negligence has been involved. By a unanimous decision, the Texas Supreme Court has ruled that insurance companies may also be held liable for punitive damages arising from gross negligence in the workers’ compensation context. Specifically, in Fairfield Insurance Co. v. Stephens Martin Paving, LP, the Texas Supreme Court held that it was not against the state’s public policy to require an employer’s liability insurance provider to provide coverage in workers’ compensation cases involving gross negligence. Texas is one of about 25 states that have indicated that state public policy does not prohibit insurance coverage for punitive damages. Bay City workers’ comp attorneys can provide further guidance as to whether punitive damages may be available in your case. Please click here for more information and a list of Bay City workers’ comp lawyers.
Finally, punitive damages may be available in some maritime injury and offshore injury cases when seamen are involved in an on-the-job accident. For example, under the Jones Act, an employer may automatically be held liable for punitive damages for arbitrarily and capriciously denying payment of maintenance and/or cure benefits. For more information regarding maritime injuries and a list of qualified Bay City maritime attorneys, click here.
Texas Civil Practice & Remedies Code
CHAPTER 41. EXEMPLARY DAMAGES
Section 41.001. Definitions
In this chapter:
(1) “Claimant” means a party, including a plaintiff, counterclaimant, cross-claimant, or third-party plaintiff, seeking recovery of exemplary damages. In a cause of action in which a party seeks recovery of exemplary damages related to injury to another person, damage to the property of another person, death of another person, or other harm to another person, “claimant” includes both that other person and the party seeking recovery of exemplary damages.
(2) “Clear and convincing” means the measure or degree of proof that will produce in the mind of the trier of fact a firm belief or conviction as to the truth of the allegations sought to be established.
(3) “Defendant” means a party, including a counter-defendant, cross-defendant, or third-party defendant, from whom a claimant seeks relief with respect to exemplary damages.
(4) “Economic damages” means compensatory damages for pecuniary loss; the term does not include exemplary damages or damages for physical pain and mental anguish, loss of consortium, disfigurement, physical impairment, or loss of companionship and society.
(5) “Exemplary damages” means any damages awarded as a penalty or by way of punishment. “Exemplary damages” includes punitive damages.
(6) “Fraud” means fraud other than constructive fraud.
(7) “Malice” means:
(A) a specific intent by the defendant to cause substantial injury to the claimant; or,
(B) an act or omission:
(i) which when viewed objectively from the standpoint of the actor at the time of its occurrence involves an extreme degree of risk, considering the probability and magnitude of the potential harm to others; and,
(ii) of which the actor has actual, subjective awareness of the risk involved, but nevertheless proceeds with conscious indifference to the rights, safety, or welfare of others.
Section 41.002. Applicability
(a) This chapter applies to any action in which a claimant seeks exemplary damages relating to a cause of action.
(b) This chapter establishes the maximum exemplary damages that may be awarded in an action subject to this chapter, including an action for which exemplary damages are awarded under another law of this state. This chapter does not apply to the extent another law establishes a lower maximum amount of exemplary damages for a particular claim.
(c) Except as provided by Subsections (b) and (d), in an action to which this chapter applies, the provisions of this chapter prevail over all other law to the extent of any conflict.
(d) Notwithstanding any provision to the contrary, this chapter does not apply to Section 15.21, Business & Commerce Code (Texas Free Enterprise and Antitrust Act of 1983), an action brought under the Deceptive Trade Practices-Consumer Protection Act (Subchapter E, Chapter 17, Business & Commerce Code) except as specifically provided in Section 17.50 of that Act, or an action brought under Chapter 21, Insurance Code.
Section 41.003. Standards for Recovery of Exemplary Damages
(a) Except as provided by Subsection (c), exemplary damages may be awarded only if the claimant proves by clear and convincing evidence that the harm with respect to which the claimant seeks recovery of exemplary damages results from:
(2) malice; or,
(3) willful act or omission or gross neglect in wrongful death actions brought by or on behalf of a surviving spouse or heirs of the decedent’s body, under a statute enacted pursuant to Section 26, Article XVI, Texas Constitution. In such cases, the definition of “gross neglect” in the instruction submitted to the jury shall be the definition stated in Section 41.001(7)(B).
(b) The claimant must prove by clear and convincing evidence the elements of exemplary damages as provided by this section. This burden of proof may not be shifted to the defendant or satisfied by evidence of ordinary negligence, bad faith, or a deceptive trade practice.
(c) If the claimant relies on a statute establishing a cause of action and authorizing exemplary damages in specified circumstances or in conjunction with a specified culpable mental state, exemplary damages may be awarded only if the claimant proves by clear and convincing evidence that the damages result from the specified circumstances or culpable mental state.
Section 41.004. Factors Precluding Recovery
(a) Except as provided by Subsection (b), exemplary damages may be awarded only if damages other than nominal damages are awarded.
(b) A claimant may recover exemplary damages, even if only nominal damages are awarded, if the claimant establishes by clear and convincing evidence that the harm with respect to which the claimant seeks recovery of exemplary damages results from malice as defined in Section 41.001(7)(A). Exemplary damages may not be awarded to a claimant who elects to have his recovery multiplied under another statute.
Section 41.005. Harm Resulting From Criminal Act
(a) In an action arising from harm resulting from an assault, theft, or other criminal act, a court may not award exemplary damages against a defendant because of the criminal act of another.
(b) The exemption provided by Subsection (a) does not apply if:
(1) the criminal act was committed by an employee of the defendant;
(2) the defendant is criminally responsible as a party to the criminal act under the provisions of Chapter 7, Penal Code;
(3) the criminal act occurred at a location where, at the time of the criminal act, the defendant was maintaining a common nuisance under the provisions of Chapter 125, Civil Practice and Remedies Code, and had not made reasonable attempts to abate the nuisance; or,
(4) the criminal act resulted from the defendant’s intentional or knowing violation of a statutory duty under Subchapter D, Chapter 92, Property Code, and the criminal act occurred after the statutory deadline for compliance with that duty.
(c) In an action arising out of a criminal act committed by an employee, the employer may be liable for punitive damages but only if:
(1) the principal authorized the doing and the manner of the act;
(2) the agent was unfit and the principal acted with malice in employing or retaining him;
(3) the agent was employed in a managerial capacity and was acting in the scope of employment; or,
(4) the employer or a manager of the employer ratified or approved the act.
Section 41.006. Award Specific to Defendant
In any action in which there are two or more defendants, an award of exemplary damages must be specific as to a defendant, and each defendant is liable only for the amount of the award made against that defendant.
Section 41.007. Prejudgment Interest
Prejudgment interest may not be assessed or recovered on an award of exemplary damages.
Section 41.008. Limitation on Amount of Recovery
(a) In an action in which a claimant seeks recovery of exemplary damages, the trier of fact shall determine the amount of economic damages separately from the amount of other compensatory damages.
(b) Exemplary damages awarded against a defendant may not exceed an amount equal to the greater of:
(A) two times the amount of economic damages; plus
(B) an amount equal to any noneconomic damages found by the jury, not to exceed $750,000; or,
(c) Subsection (b) does not apply to a cause of action against a defendant from whom a plaintiff seeks recovery of exemplary damages based on conduct described as a felony in the following sections of the Penal Code if, except for Sections 49.07 and 49.08, the conduct was committed knowingly or intentionally:
(1) Section 19.02 (murder);
(2) Section 19.03 (capital murder);
(3) Section 20.04 (aggravated kidnapping);
(4) Section 22.02 (aggravated assault);
(5) Section 22.011 (sexual assault);
(6) Section 22.021 (aggravated sexual assault);
(7) Section 22.04 (injury to a child, elderly individual, or disabled individual);
(8) Section 32.21 (forgery);
(9) Section 32.43 (commercial bribery);
(10) Section 32.45 (misapplication of fiduciary property or property of financial institution);
(11) Section 32.46 (securing execution of document by deception);
(12) Section 32.47 (fraudulent destruction, removal, or concealment of writing);
(13) Chapter 31 (theft) the punishment level for which is a felony of the third degree or higher;
(14) Section 49.07 (intoxication assault); or,
(15) Section 49.08 (intoxication manslaughter).
(d) In this section, “intentionally” and “knowingly” have the same meanings assigned those terms in Sections 6.03(a) and (b), Penal Code.
(e) The provisions of Subsections (a) and (b) may not be made known to a jury by any means, including voir dire, introduction into evidence, argument, or instruction.
Section 41.009. Bifurcated Trial
(a) On motion by a defendant, the court shall provide for a bifurcated trial under this section. A motion under this subsection shall be made prior to voir dire examination of the jury or at a time specified by a pretrial court order issued under Rule 166, Texas Rules of Civil Procedure.
(b) In an action with more than one defendant, the court shall provide for a bifurcated trial on motion of any defendant.
(c) In the first phase of a bifurcated trial, the trier of fact shall determine:
(1) liability for compensatory and exemplary damages; and,
(2) the amount of compensatory damages.
(d) If liability for exemplary damages is established during the first phase of a bifurcated trial, the trier of fact shall, in the second phase of the trial, determine the amount of exemplary damages to be awarded, if any.
Section 41.010. Considerations in Making Award
(a) Before making an award of exemplary damages, the trier of fact shall consider the definition and purposes of exemplary damages as provided by Section 41.001.
(b) The determination of whether to award exemplary damages and the amount of exemplary damages to be awarded is within the discretion of the trier of fact.
Section 41.011. Evidence Relating to Amount of Exemplary Damages
(a) In determining the amount of exemplary damages, the trier of fact shall consider evidence, if any, relating to:
(1) the nature of the wrong;
(2) the character of the conduct involved;
(3) the degree of culpability of the wrongdoer;
(4) the situation and sensibilities of the parties concerned;
(5) the extent to which such conduct offends a public sense of justice and propriety; and,
(6) the net worth of the defendant.
(b) Evidence that is relevant only to the amount of exemplary damages that may be awarded is not admissible during the first phase of a bifurcated trial.
Section 41.012. Jury Instructions
In a trial to a jury, the court shall instruct the jury with regard to Sections 41.001, 41.003, 41.010, and 41.011.
Section 41.013. Judicial Review of Award
(a) Except as provided for in Subsection (b), an appellate court that reviews the evidence with respect to a finding by a trier of fact concerning liability for exemplary damages or with respect to the amount of exemplary damages awarded shall state, in a written opinion, the court’s reasons for upholding or disturbing the finding or award. The written opinion shall address the evidence or lack of evidence with specificity, as it relates to the liability for or amount of exemplary damages, in light of the requirements of this chapter.
(b) This section does not apply to the Supreme Court with respect to its consideration of an application for writ of error.
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