Punitive Damages

What are Punitive Damages?

The typical remedy in a civil suit is an award of actual damages. Actual damages are designed to compensate the plaintiff for the plaintiff’s out of pocket expenses that the plaintiff suffered because of the defendant’s conduct. Punitive damages are a type of damages that are in addition to actual damages.

Who awards the Plaintiff Punitive Damages?

The trier of fact awards punitive damages. If the trial was a bench trial the judge will award punitive damages, but if the trail was a jury trial the jury will award punitive damages. If the defendant believes that they have been assessed punitive damages that are excessive the defendant can appeal the decision.

Why are Punitive Damages Awarded?

Punitive damages serve as a form of punishment and deterrence. A defendant can be punished when the defendant’s conduct was willful, outrageous, malicious, morally culpable, or extremely reckless. The damages also serve as a form of deterrence in order to encourage the defendant to stop the reckless behavior and in order to set an example for others who are acting in the same way the defendant was acting. In order to be awarded punitive damages, a plaintiff must prove that the defendant acted grossly negligent. In such a case, the plaintiff must prove gross negligence by clear and convincing evidence burden of proof.

How are Punitive Damages Calculated?

There is no set formula for the calculation of punitive damages. The amount of punitive damages that are awarded will depend on the specific facts of the defendant’s conduct. The court must ensure that defendants who deserve to be punished for their behavior do not receive punishment that is excessive. Punitive damages must be proportional to the actual damages that the plaintiff suffered.

How does a Court Determine if the amount of Punitive Damages was excessive?

In Alamo National Bank v. Kraus, the Supreme Court of Texas discussed the factors that should be considered in order to determine if punitive damages are excessive. These factors include: (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, and (5) the extent to which such conduct offends a public sense of justice and propriety. See also Ellis Cty. State Bank v. Keever, 936 S.W.2d 683, 686 (Tex. App. 1996).