After the plaintiff’s personal injury lawyer has proved the defendant’s breach of duty was the proximate cause of the injury, there’s one step left. The fourth and final element of a negligence claim is proving there were damages. This means that for a defendant to be held legally responsible, there must be some type of injury or harm. The injured party must prove that when the defendant breached their duty of care, it triggered damages created by the defendant. As a reminder, all four elements of negligence must be present for there to be a valid cause of action (duty, breach, proximate cause, and damages).
There are multiple ways a party can become injured or harmed. One of the most common types of injury is physical injuries, but a party can also be injured financially by suffering economic loss or damage to their property. Below is a general overview of the various types of damages:
Compensatory Damages are designed to reimburse a plaintiff for their injury. In 2016, the Texas Supreme Court discussed in J&D Towing, LLC v. American Alternative Ins. Co. that the purpose of compensatory damages is to put the plaintiff in the same position they were in before the injury . For example, if the plaintiff lost $10,000 due to the defendant’s negligence, we want to recover (at least) $10,000 so the plaintiff is back to the position they would have been in if it wasn’t for the defendant’s interference. The compensation must be reasonable; it can’t be too skimpy or excessive. Compensatory damages are broken down into two additional categories- general and special damages.
- General (Direct) Damages are meant to compensate the injured party for losses that are difficult to calculate. This includes: physical pain and suffering, mental or emotional pain or anguish, loss of consortium, disfigurement, physical impairment, loss of companionship and society, inconvenience, loss of enjoyment of life, injury to reputation, and all other non-monetary losses (other than exemplary damages) .
- Special (Consequential) Damages are meant to compensate the injured party for an actual loss of money. These damages are calculated exactly, usually with receipts, and they must be foreseeable and directly traceable to the negligent act . Some examples are medical bills, property damage, loss or impairment of earning capacity, or loss of profits .
- Nominal Damages are awarded when a person’s rights have been violated, but there isn’t any actual financial loss to the plaintiff or if the plaintiff is unable to calculate an exact amount . This is in stark contrast to compensatory damages where the plaintiff must prove actual harm. The purpose of nominal damages is to show that the plaintiff is legally in the right, but has not suffered any significant loss. Many times, nominal damages will be a small amount such as $1 or $2.
- Exemplary/Punitive Damages are not meant to compensate the plaintiff for their injuries, they’re specifically designed to punish the defendant and discourage similar conduct in the future . Exemplary damages are granted in addition to the award of compensatory damages; it’s the icing on the cake, so to speak. It’s important to note there are a few limitations on exemplary damages. First, a plaintiff must be awarded some form of compensatory damages before they can recover exemplary damages, simply receiving nominal damages is not enough to ask for exemplary damages. Second, exemplary damages may only be awarded when the lawsuit is for fraud, malice, or gross negligence. Finally, exemplary damages may not be awarded if the plaintiff requests to have their recovery multiplied under another statute, such as the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act (DTPA). Texas also has a cap on the amount of exemplary damages that may be awarded . Under Texas law, exemplary damages cannot exceed the greater of either: 1) two times the amount of economic damages plus an amount equal to any noneconomic damages found by the jury (not to exceed $750,000); or 2) $200,000 .
- ^ J&D Towing, LLC v. American Alternative Ins. Corp., 478 S.W.3d 649, 655 (Tex. 2016).
- ^ Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. § 41.001(12).
- ^ J&D Towing, LLC v. American Alternative Ins. Corp., 478 S.W.3d 649 (Tex. 2016).
- ^ Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. § 41.001(4).
- ^ Huntington Corp. v. Inwood Construction Co., 472 S.W.2d 804, 808 (Tex. App. Dallas 1971), Trevio v. Southwestern Bell Tel. Co., 582 (Tex. Civ. App. Corpus Christi 1979).
- ^ Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. § 41.001(5).
- ^ Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. § 41.003-41.008.
- ^ Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. § 41.008.