Exemplary or “Punitive” damages are damages which are available in a lawsuit to punish the defendant’s misbehavior and to encourage the defendant to change their behavior. Punitive damages are available in Texas, like every other state, but the laws in Texas and most appeals courts are relatively hostile to the idea of punitive damages.
To begin with, punitive damages in Texas are “capped”. Generally speaking, punitive damages will be reduced on appeal to either $200,000 or $750,000, or an amount in between, depending upon the nature of actual “economic” damages that are awarded by the jury. Regardless of the amount of punitive damages it is not unusual for an appeals court to reduce the amount of punitive damages because it is too high relative to actual damages. Currently, Stephen Foster and other attorneys are waiting to find out what will happen to the exemplary damage award currently on appeal in the Anderson v. Ameriplan case.
Punitive damages must be awarded by a unanimous jury. In most civil lawsuits, 10 of 12 (or 5 of 6) jurors are sufficient to render a verdict. In order to justify an award of punitive damages every juror must agree that it is legally correct and every juror must agree upon the amount of punitive damages.
Jurors are never given information about the nature of punitive damage caps and many times believe that they have given a sizable award when the reality is that the appellate court will reduce the punitive damages or, in some cases, take them away entirely.
There are certain violations of the penal code (the criminal laws) that eliminate the caps on punitive damages entirely. In these situations, the verdict of the jury will be upheld and will not be reduced or eliminated.
Whether or not punitive damages are available can be complicated and it is important to have a legally correct jury charge requested and prepared so that if they are awarded they will not be reversed or reduced on appeal, unless absolutely legally required.