Court Discusses Calculating Damages for Non-economic Harm in Texas Car Accident Cases

Pursuant to Texas law, parties that cause fatal collisions may be deemed liable for any damages sustained by the deceased person’s survivors as a result of the accident. These damages include not only economic harm, like the cost of medical care or lost earnings, but also non-economic losses, including mental trauma and anguish. Regardless of the character of the compensation awarded, however, it must be reasonable and fair, as discussed in Gregory v. Chohan, 66 Tex. Sup. Ct. J. 1086 (2023), a case in which the court found that the evidence did not support the non-economic damages awarded to the plaintiffs for wrongful death claims. If you lost a loved one in a collision, it is in your best interest to speak to a Texas car accident lawyer regarding what claims you may be able to pursue.

Factual and Procedural Setting

It is reported that the widow of the decedent, along with their children and the decedent’s parents, brought a wrongful death action against the driver of a jackknifed truck and the driver’s employer. The plaintiffs alleged that the jackknifed truck caused a multi-vehicle accident on the interstate, resulting in the death of the trucker while he was outside his truck. The plaintiffs set forth vicarious liability claims against the employer, as well as claims for negligent entrustment, supervision, and training.

Allegedly, after a jury trial, the court entered a judgment in favor of the plaintiffs and awarded them approximately $16.8 million; the vast majority of the damages award constituted non-economic damages for the loss of the decedent’s companionship and the mental anguish caused by his death. The driver and employer appealed the decision, but the court of appeals affirmed the judgment. The driver and employer then petitioned for review.

Calculating Damages for Non-economic Harm

In wrongful death cases, damages were traditionally measured by the pecuniary loss to the parties involved rather than considering pain or mental anguish. However, in recent years, the precedent has shifted to allow for mental anguish damages in wrongful death cases without a physical manifestation.

To establish mental anguish damages, evidence of the nature, duration, and severity of the mental anguish is required. Juries must find an amount that fairly and reasonably compensates for the loss, but their discretion is not unlimited. Appellate courts must conduct a meaningful evidentiary review of the damages awarded.

The court noted that assigning a monetary value to emotional injuries is inherently difficult, and money cannot truly compensate for the loss and grief experienced in wrongful death cases. Overall, while the legal system recognizes the challenges in quantifying emotional injuries, it still must rely on evidence and reason to provide compensation as reasonably as possible. In the subject case, the court found that there was sufficient evidence exists to support the award of non-economic damages but not the amount awarded. Thus, it reversed the trial court ruling.

Meet with an Assertive Texas Attorney

The sudden loss of a loved one in a collision can not only cause emotional and mental distress but can also lead to significant financial hardships. If you suffered the loss of a family member in a car collision, it is in your best interest to meet with an attorney to discuss your possible claims.  Earl Drott is an assertive Texas car accident attorney with the skills and experience needed to prove that negligent motorists should be liable for the harm they cause, and if you hire him, he will work tirelessly on your behalf. You can contact Mr. Drott through the online form or at 903-531-9300 to set up a free meeting.

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