Texas Appeals Court Rules That Insurance Company Did Not Have to Pay Punitive Damages Award in Car Accident Case

In an east Texas car accident lawsuit, the parties named in the complaint are typically the injured person (the plaintiff) and the driver whose negligence allegedly caused the crash (the defendant).

However, it is not usually the actual defendant who writes the check at the end of the case – that would be an insurance company. Of course, you probably wouldn’t know this if you just happened to walk into a courtroom during the trial of a car wreck case. The insurance companies work very hard to keep this information away from the jury. They also put in a substantial amount of time doing everything they can to limit their liability in a particular case. In a recent case, this even included filing a separate lawsuit asking the court to declare that they only owed the injured person a portion of the total amount of money a jury awarded him or her.

Facts of the Case

In a case under consideration by the Texas Court of Appeals recently, the plaintiff was an insurance company that filed a declaratory judgment action against the defendants, an injured pedestrian and the bankruptcy trustee for the motorist whose gross negligence injured the pedestrian. The insurance company sought the court’s clarification as to whether it was obligated to pay an award of punitive damages. (In an earlier action, the pedestrian had obtained a judgment for $93,245 in actual damages and $75,000 in punitive damages against the motorist; the punitive damages award was based on a finding that the motorist had acted with gross negligence in causing the pedestrian’s injuries.)

The trial court determined that the insurance company had to pay the punitive damages, granting summary judgment in favor of the defendants. The insurance company appealed.

The Decision of the Court of Appeals

The appellate court affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded the case for additional proceedings. On appeal, the insurance company insisted that the policy covering the accident did not require it to pay punitive damages and that, furthermore, Texas public policy prohibited such coverage. The court of appeals agreed with the insurance company that, under the plain language of the insurance policy at issue, “damages for bodily injury” did not cover punitive damages.

In so holding, the court recognized that there was previous case law that arguably indicated it might be possible for a court to reach a different ruling with regard to the payment of punitive damages under certain circumstances but pointed out that the language in the policy under consideration in those cases differed from the language of the policy in the case at issue here.

If You Need to Talk to an Experienced East Texas Car Accident Lawyer

Those who have been involved in a motor vehicle accident are at a substantial disadvantage when trying to deal one-on-one with an insurance company. Adjusters and others involved in the case often have many years of experience settling claims, while an injured person hopefully is only involved in a single accident over the course of a lifetime. At Earl Drott Law in Tyler, Smith County, Texas, we consider it our job to level the playing field so that our auto accident clients get every penny they are entitled to receive following a serious accident. For a free case evaluation, call us today at 903-531-9300.

Related Blog Posts:

Texas Court of Appeals Directs Automobile Liability Insurance Company to Produce Portions of Claim File After Driver Files Bad Faith Case

Federal Court in Texas Says Insurance Company Had No Obligation to Pay Judgment in Auto Accident Case

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