Given the extreme weight of 18-wheeler tractor-trailers, the aftermath of a wreck is usually pretty ugly. Those lucky enough to survive many times have severe injuries such as spinal cord fractures, traumatic brain injury, and paralysis. Many truck wreck victims require at least one surgery (if not multiple) at great expense.
Recovering from a tractor-trailer accident can be a job enough for anyone, yet the victims are often forced to pay high medical bills or deductibles at a time when they cannot work. Often a trucking crash can place a heavy burden on the victim or their family. Some have health insurance that pays most of the bills, others are stuck with out-of-pocket expenses, and sometimes the medical costs can go on indefinitely.
Fortunately, trucking companies usually have significant insurance coverage to cover legal injury damages such as:
These damages are posed to a jury to answer in both the past as well as the future.
Many times, for permanent injuries with significant future medical expenses, a life care planner is used to calculate the total lifetime cost of medical care. These professionals are Doctors who work with a team of medical professionals to protect the victim as far as future needs.
In cases where the victim of a trucking accident did not survive, the family seeks damages for the wrongful death and survival claims. The wrongful death case involves damages known in law as “pecuniary loss,” which is the loss of the person and their economic contribution to the family. The human loss in a wrongful death case is called “loss of companionship and society,” and a separate question is posed for “mental anguish.”
In cases where the company of the driver acted with what is called “Malice” that is more than mere negligence, or thoughtlessness, exemplary damages may be appropriate. In Texas, such losses have been capped by statute under recent “tort reform.” Nevertheless, when exemplary damages can be submitted to a jury, it can help the family recover economic justice for the bad actions of a trucker or his company.
Punitive or “exemplary” damages are not compensation for actual loss but rather, a deterrent to prevent others from dangerous actions that endanger our community.
The vast majority of accidents when an 18-wheeler hits an innocent family do not involve punitive or exemplary damages. The law is clear in Texas that it takes more than simple negligence to rise to the level the law requires to obtain an award of exemplary damages.
It is when the trucking company or the truck driver has knowingly jeopardized the public that punitive damages may be appropriate. Momentary thoughtlessness or neglect such as running a red light or speeding generally do not rise to the level necessary for a jury to consider punitive damages in Texas.
However, in many cases, the possibility of punitive damages can be an essential tool for an experienced punitive damage truck accident attorney. Each case must be evaluated independently.
Another consideration is whether the punitive damages will be collectible if they are awarded. One factor is whether or not the damages would be covered under the trucking company’s insurance policies.
Recent case law in Texas is slanted toward insurers and against consumers on the issue of insurance coverage for exemplary damages. However, some larger carriers bargained for and obtain insurance coverage that allows for punitive damages.
Texas has Limited the amount recoverable when the punitive damages are awarded by statute. Civil Practice and Remedies Code Section 41 defines and limits punitive damages in the state of Texas.
Section 41.008 guides the limitations of the number of punitive damages that can be awarded against a defendant. That section limits exemplary damages to:
1) the greater of:
A) two times the number of economic damages plus B) an amount equal to any noneconomic damages found by the jury not to exceed $750,000; or
There are certain crimes exempted from the limitations of punitive damages in the state of Texas.
Defendants are allowed to elect to bifurcate a trial so punitive damages or decided separately from the case in chief. Often, a bifurcation election enables the defense to limit some evidence that the jury may hear in the first part of the case.
If you have questions about a truck accident in the state of Texas or punitive damages that may be allowed feel free to call our office for a free, no-obligation consultation with an attorney with over three decades experience in holding trucking companies and truck drivers accountable.
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