Punitive damages function a bit differently than the other categories of damages we've been discussing. They are also referred to as "exemplary damages," and they must be specifically plead in order to be awarded.
Let's look briefly at what punitive damages are, how they are decided, and what to do if you have questions about your wrongful death claim.
What are Punitive Damages?
These special damages are designed to penalize a defendant for outrageous, malicious, or otherwise morally culpable conduct and to deter such conduct in the future. Punitive damages sets a public example in order to prevent repetition of the act. Under the Texas constitution, exemplary damages are recoverable for wrongful death when the death is caused by the defendant's willful act, or omission, or gross negligence.
One of the ways this set of damages is different from others is that only a surviving spouse, or heirs of the decedent can recover exemplary damages. Even though parents are statutory beneficiaries, parents cannot recover these damages, they are only eligible to recover actual damages. This is a complex issue, and if you have questions regarding why this is the case, we would be happy to discuss that with you.
Examples Where Punitive Damages Were Awarded
To give you an idea of what kinds of situations the court systems have awarded exemplary damages for in the past, lets list a few.
- awarded after plead by patient against a mental health services provider for sexual exploitation
- awarded after plead by victim against a person for violating an anti-stalking statute
- awarded after plead against a hospital or mental health facility for retaliation against an employee or nonemployee for reporting a violation of law
- awarded after plead against institution or its owner or employee for retaliation after a report of abuse or neglect at a nursing or convalescent home
So you can see that these are over the top, truly appalling scenarios. That's why punitive damages exist, when the negligence is so offensive that the courts see fit to additionally penalize a defendant. The idea isn't to make you richer, but to truly incentivize the defendant to change their actions in the future.
I Still Have More Questions
We understand that legal matters can be complex, and we know that sometimes the best thing is to talk with someone who has a better understanding of the material than you do. Luckily we have over 25 years of experience handling wrongful death claims in the state of Texas. We know this area of the law almost better than anyone. Not only that, we care about our clients and we make ourselves available to you 24/7.