Does Your Injury Case Qualify For Punitive Damages?

Every personal injury case is unique, and the severity of the injuries can vary, along with the extent of property damage. The cause of the accident can also be different. However, something remains the same you expect compensation for your damages.

While recovering economic losses is relatively straightforward, the process can even apply to your non-economic damages. You may even be wondering if your claim qualifies for punitive damages. This is when the elements of a punitive damages claim need to be addressed. Not all personal injury claims meet these elements and this means you can’t file for punitive damages.

What are Punitive Damages

Also known as exemplary damages, punitive damages are designed to serve as an example to others. Think of it as the legal system making an example of the defendant in your personal injury case.

Don’t confuse punitive damages with compensatory awards. A compensatory award is the settlement you receive from the insurance company to cover your economic and non-economic damages. Punitive damages are separate awards designed to punish the at-fault party and prevent others from following their example.

While almost every personal injury claim is eligible to receive compensation for damages, punitive awards aren’t automatic. This means that even if you win your personal injury case, you may not receive any punitive damages.

Exemplary damages are only awarded by a judge or jury, and each personal injury claim must meet at least one of the following elements.

The Elements of a Punitive Damages Claim

There’s nothing wrong with asking the court to award punitive damages. However, this doesn’t guarantee the court will approve your request.

Punitive damages are only awarded when a plaintiff can prove their injuries are caused by gross negligence, malice, or fraud. While this may not sound too difficult to prove, it’s a little harder than you may think.

Gross Negligence

Negligence and gross negligence are two different things under Texas law. Negligence is behaving in a manner not considered usual by a reasonable person. Yes, this can be a little confusing, especially determining what’s considered reasonable behavior.

An example is if the defendant runs a red light and causes the resulting accident. While reasonable drivers stop at a red light, some individuals still decide to barrel on through.


Gross negligence is when the behavior poses an extreme risk to others. Getting behind the wheel after downing ten shots of alcohol and crashing into another driver can be an example of gross negligence. The defendant must be aware that their actions are placing other lives in danger but still proceed with the behavior.


Sometimes, proving malice is a little easier than gross negligence—however, malice doesn’t apply to all personal injury claims. Malice is when the defendant’s actions are designed to cause harm. An unlawful act that results in injuries may also be considered malice.

To prove malice, you must show the defendant acted knowingly and willfully with the intent of causing your bodily harm. In other words, the defendant is specifically trying to injure you.

For example, negligence is if you slip and fall on a wet floor and an employee forgets to put up a warning sign. The employee didn’t mean to cause any injuries. They are only negligent in their forgetfulness. However, if the same employee purposefully spills liquid on the floor with the specific intention of causing a fall, they’re acting maliciously.


Proving fraud in a punitive damages case means showing the defendant knowingly and willfully provided you with false information. This information is the reason you made a decision that resulted in your damages. Fraud often applies to cases involving financial damages but it can also apply to personal injury claims.

If you purchase a vehicle with defective brakes after the defendant claims the parts are new and you get into an accident, you may be able to prove fraud.

Potential Caps on Punitive Damages

If you can prove at least one of the above elements, you may be eligible to receive punitive damages. However, before you start envisioning checks for a million dollars and more, there are caps to consider.

The federal government doesn’t cap punitive damage awards, this is left to the states’ discretion. Yes, Texas has caps on the maximum amount plaintiffs can receive in punitive damages. So, what are the punitive damages caps in Texas?


You can either receive up to $200,000 in punitive damages or twice the amount of your economic damages plus your non-economic damages up to $750.000. Since most economic and non-economic damages are greater than $200,000, your punitive damages award can be substantial.

Here’s a quick look at how punitive damages work in a personal injury case. If your economic damages are $1,000,000, and it’s the same for your non-economic damages, your compensatory award is $2,000,000. This means your punitive damages can’t be more than $750,000. So, the total amount of compensation for your injuries is $2,750,000.

However, if your total compensatory amount is only $75,000, your punitive damages can be as high as $200,000. This means you receive a total of $275,000 for all of your damages.

Who Awards Punitive Damages

As mentioned earlier, insurance companies have nothing to do with punitive damages. These damages are only awarded by a judge or jury in civil court.

Yes, this means you need to take your personal injury claim to court. In other words, you’re filing a lawsuit against the defendant. Whether the defendant’s insurance provider covers your punitive damage award is up to the carrier.

If your lawsuit is against an entity like a major corporation, their insurance provider usually takes care of paying out your punitive damage award. However, if you’re suing an individual, their insurance may only cover economic and non-economic damages.

Your Personal Injury Case May Be Eligible for Punitive Damages

Not every personal injury case meets the elements necessary for punitive damages. However, it may be something to discuss with your personal injury attorney. The judgment for you can be substantial, and best of all, you’re helping to set an example.

Your punitive damages award may be what discourages others from engaging in the same malicious or negligent behavior.