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What Punitive Damages Can I Receive After a DUI Accident in Texas?

Posted On March 23, 2020 In Local Car Accidents

Any car accident can be an incredibly scary and confusing experience for those involved. This is particularly the case for victims struck by a drunk driver. Unfortunately, these incidents are not uncommon in Texas. According to the state’s Department of Transportation, there were more than 24,000 auto accidents caused by drunk drivers during the latest reporting year in Texas. Out of those incidents, there were:

  • 940 fatalities
  • 2,138 suspected serious injuries
  • 5,082 non-incapacitating injuries
  • 6,320 possible injuries

There are various types of compensation that may be available to victims in the aftermath of the DUI crash.

What are punitive damages and how do they differ from other damages?

In most car accident cases, the injured victim (plaintiff) will not be seeking punitive damages from the at-fault driver. However, there are some exceptions to this.

In the aftermath of a crash, victims may be entitled to various types of compensation for their losses. In personal injury law, damages fall into one of two categories: compensatory damages and punitive damages.

Compensatory damages

Compensatory damages are divided into economic damages and non-economic damages. Economic damages include coverage for medical bills, lost income, and other financial losses. Non-economic damages include pain and suffering and mental anguish damages that resulted from the accident injuries. Typically, compensatory damages are the main focus of a car accident case.

How much money a person receives on compensatory damages will vary depending on the facts of their case. This includes the severity of the injuries, the cost of medical bills, the amount of lost income, pain and suffering costs, and more.

Punitive damages

Punitive damages are a special category of compensation in a Texas personal injury case. These damages are not considered compensatory, as they are not meant to compensate the plaintiff for any injuries or damages they suffered.

As the name suggests, punitive damages are awarded for the purpose of punishing the at-fault party (the defendant). These damages also act as a deterrent to others who would behave in a similar manner.

The appropriate amount of punitive damages awarded will be based on a consideration of a number of factors, including:

  • How much the defendant has in assets
  • The character and nature of the defendant’s conduct
  • How much harm others might suffer if the defendant is not punished
  • The actual harm the plaintiff suffered in the incident in question

There are caps on punitive damages in Texas. These damages are capped at the greater of $200,000 or two times the total amount awarded in economic damages plus the amount equal to non-economic damages is up to $750,000. It should be noted that this cap does not apply if the act in question was a felony, which many DUI cases are.

In order to collect punitive damages in the aftermath of the drunk driving accident case, the plaintiff will need to provide clear and convincing evidence of gross negligence on the part of the defendant. Proving gross negligence typically requires two elements:

  1. That the drunk driver should have known that their behavior involved an extreme risk
  2. That the drunk driver understood the risk but did not care or disregarded it

It is vital that a DUI accident victim works with a skilled car accident attorney in Texas to ensure they receive maximum compensation for their claim. An attorney will be able to help a victim properly calculate their total losses and advise whether or not punitive damages are appropriate.

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