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February 25, 2018

When are punitive damages awarded for car accident lawsuits?

Through car accident lawsuits, accident victims injured in crashes caused by other motorists' negligence may be entitled to collect damages. These damages can generally be divided into two categories: compensatory damages and punitive damages.

Compensatory damages are designed to compensate victims for losses incurred in an accident. Unlike compensatory damages, punitive damages—also known as exemplary damages—aren't intended to compensate a victim.

Rather, their purpose is to punish a defendant for conduct deemed particularly reprehensible, as well as discourage others from engaging in similar conduct. Punitive damages are rarely awarded, except in the most extreme cases.

In Texas, judges and juries can only award punitive damages in cases where the plaintiff's injuries and losses were the direct result of a defendant's fraud, malice, or gross negligence. This means the defendant must have intentionally harmed the plaintiff or behaved in a way that was so unreasonably reckless, they should have known their actions would harm others.

Though punitive damages aren't often awarded in car accident cases, they can be. Examples of conduct that could potentially result in punitive damages include:

  • Intentionally assaulting or killing someone with a vehicle
  • Driving with a blood alcohol concentration several times above the legal limit
  • Engaging in extremely reckless behavior, such as "playing chicken" or drag racing
  • Purposefully hitting another vehicle or forcing it off the road in a road rage incident

In these and other select circumstances, plaintiffs in car accident cases may be awarded punitive damages at trial in addition to compensatory damages.

Do You Need a Car Accident Attorney?

If you were severely injured in a car accident caused by another motorist's egregious actions, the award-winning attorneys with McGartland Law Firm can help you pursue all of the damages to which you may be entitled. Do you have questions about your car accident case? Contact McGartland Law Firm today to schedule an appointment for a free initial consultation.

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