Gross Negligence in Personal Injury Lawsuits in Texas
If you or someone you know have been involved in a truck wreck, construction accident, oilfield accident or other incident resulting in catastrophic personal injury or wrongful death, you are probably interested in the law on punitive damages. In order to recover punitive damages in a personal injury case in Texas, the jury must find clear and convincing evidence that the defendant was grossly negligent. “Gross negligence” is defined as “an act or omission: (i) which viewed objectively from the standpoint of that actor at the time of its occurrence involves an extreme degree of risk, considering the probability and magnitude of the potential harm to others; and (ii) of which the actor has actual, subjective awareness of the risk involved, but nevertheless proceeds with conscious indifference to the rights, safety, or welfare of others.” Thus, gross negligence involves two components, an objective inquiry and a subjective determination. Ordinary negligence is not enough to establish either the objective or subjective elements of gross negligence. An extreme degree of risk – the objective component –“is not a remote possibility of injury or even a high probability of minor harm, but rather the likelihood of serious injury to the plaintiff.” The harm to be anticipated must be extraordinary, such as “death, grievous physical injury, or financial ruin.” Actual awareness – the subjective element – requires a showing that the defendant “knew about the peril, but its acts or omissions demonstrated that it did not care.” The plaintiff may rely on circumstantial evidence to establish either prong of the gross-negligence test.
If there is clear and convincing evidence to support a finding of gross negligence, the jury must decide the amount, if any, of punitive damages. In deciding the amount of punitive damages to assess, the jury considers the nature of the wrong, the character of the conduct involved, the degree of culpability, the situation and sensibilities of the parties concerned, the extent to which the conduct offended a public sense of justice and propriety, and net worth of the defendant.
Our attorneys at McCleskey are experienced in handling personal injury cases involving punitive damage claims and are available for a free consultation to discuss personal injury claims with you.