Texas courts are notorious for awarding large settlements to victims in civil lawsuits. However, that may be about to change after the Texas Supreme Court ruling in Gregory and New Prime, Inc. v. Chohan. This wrongful death case could potentially alter the way non-economic damages are calculated in all Texas personal injury cases, which may have tremendous repercussions for victims of non-physical damages.

If you’re currently seeking damages in a Texas personal injury case or are planning to file your lawsuit soon, then this news could have a significant impact on your case. Keep reading to learn more about what this Texas Supreme Court ruling means for Texas and how it sets new personal injury standards for jury verdicts in the state.

What Happened in Gregory and New Prime, Inc. v. Chohan?

This wrongful death case involved the untimely death of Bhupinder Deol after being struck by a New Prime, Inc vehicle on an icy road in Amarillo, TX. The case found Sarah Gregory, the driver, and her employer to have been negligent in the death of Deol and awarded his surviving family a sum of $16.8 million in economic and non-economic damages. However, the figure was appealed as the non-economic damages totaled more than $15 million of the total monetary award — almost ninety percent of the total figure.

In the final ruling, the Texas Supreme Court argued that non-economic damages in jury verdicts need to be held up to stricter standards. Unlike economic damages, where each damage amount usually has an accompanying receipt, it is more difficult to calculate the monetary value of things that do not have one by definition. For example, assigning a monetary sum to human life has been an issue for centuries, as the circumstances surrounding death often impact monetary value.

How Does the Law Determine the Value of Human Life?

Wrongful death cases determine the compensation amount for an untimely death by calculating the pecuniary losses attributable to that person. This includes all quantifiable expenses from the death plus missed earnings that could have been expected of that person had they not died. By doing this, the court is able to calculate how much money the deceased’s family is missing out on due to the death.

Some of the pecuniary losses typically taken into account in wrongful death cases include:

  • Missed income, including a reasonable rate of interest at which the future earnings will be discounted
  • Loss of support, including missed opportunities to serve as a caretaker
  • Lost prospect of inheritance
  • Medical costs
  • Funeral expenses
  • Ambulance bills

However, keep in mind that pecuniary losses do not include non-economic damages suffered by the surviving family. These damages are calculated separately and typically do not place as much emphasis on the deceased, but instead focus on the mental anguish and trauma caused to the surviving family members.

What Are Non-Economic Damages?

There are two main types of damages available in Texas personal injury cases: economic damages and non-economic damages. Economic damages refer to all of those that can be accounted for with receipts or easily anticipated, such as medical bills, legal fees, and loss of wages. Non-economic damages, however, are harder to account for, since they do not involve a specific economic transaction.

Examples of non-economic damages include:

  • Pain and suffering
  • Mental anguish
  • Loss of enjoyment of life
  • Stress and anxiety
  • Depression
  • Emotional distress
  • Loss of companionship

Non-economic damages are usually calculated either by using the multiplier or the per-diem methods. The former simply assigns a number by which to multiply your total economic losses in order to obtain the non-economic losses number. The latter assigns a monetary value to each day during which you’re expected to experience suffering and pays you a flat rate for the total amount.

Keep in mind that there is a third type of damages available in some personal injury cases: punitive damages. These damages are awarded as a way to punish the defendant in cases where their behaviors are considered to be grossly negligent or outrageously reckless. These awards are completely separate from economic and non-economic damages, as they do not seek to compensate the victims but rather deter the defendant from engaging in the same behavior in the future.

When awarding non-economic damages, it is extremely important for the jury to stick to providing compensation only. Since punitive damages are in a separate category, non-economic damages should only aim to compensate the victims for the damages they have suffered and will suffer as a direct consequence of the accident.

What Are the Implications of Gregory and New Prime, Inc. v. Chohan?

This ruling seeks to increase the scrutiny under which compensatory financial awards are calculated. In the Gregory and New Prime, Inc. v. Chohan case, the plaintiff’s attorneys gathered sufficient evidence to show that there was a substantial amount of mental anguish and loss of companionship experienced by the victims. However, there was a lack of a clear enough connection as to how the financial amounts in connection with the wrongful death were calculated.

Both economic and non-economic damages fall under the compensatory damages category under civil law. This means that they are neither punitive nor exemplary, and, as such, should be strictly proportional to the amount of damages suffered by the victims. While this is a relatively straightforward process for economic damages, assigning a monetary value to non-economic damages is complex, which complicates the compensatory nature of these awards.

Because calculating intangible damages is a difficult matter, attorneys usually reference other objects or situations when arguing how much money the plaintiff is entitled to in non-economic damages. In this case, the plaintiff’s attorneys cited the price tag of a $71 million Boeing F-18 military jet and a $186 million painting. They even went as far as demanding that each of the three decedents be paid two cents per mile driven by the entire fleet of the truck company — which would have totaled $39 million.

The main problem with awarding compensatory damages in a wrongful death case is that no financial amount will likely be able to fully compensate for the loss of a loved one — especially a parent or husband. As such, it may seem that no financial sum is too large for consideration in cases like these. Indeed, to an outsider, it may seem like $15 million is a bit much in compensatory damages, but it may actually seem like not enough to the victims who experienced the loss of a family member.

The Texas Supreme Court decision, however, seeks to establish that there is a limit to how high compensatory damages can go and ban the permissibility of this kind of “unsubstantiated anchoring,” where there is no rational connection between the references cited and the particular situation being heard. This means that, according to the new instructions by the Texas Supreme Court, any practice of unsubstantiated anchoring and jury arguments not directly related to actual evidence will not be permitted. This can severely limit the recovery amounts in future Texas personal injury lawsuits.

The Next Steps in Gregory and New Prime, Inc. v. Chohan

The Texas Supreme Court ruling found that a new trial was necessary because the original trial failed to include a responsible third party in the jury charge. This responsible third party was a truck driver who allegedly tipped over on the scene of the accident and blocked all clearance on the right of the highway, thus making the subsequent accident much more likely. This driver’s actions directly contributed to the conditions that caused the accident, so there must be a new trial that involves all responsible third parties.

When the case goes to trial again, we can expect the new, higher evidentiary standards to be utilized when evaluating the non-economic damages to which Deol’s surviving family is entitled. This may reduce the total financial compensation to Doel’s surviving family, as the plaintiff’s attorneys will not be able to use the price of fighter jets and collectible paintings to anchor the non-economic damages in eight and nine-digit figures. Instead, the attorneys will need to demonstrate a direct relation between Doel’s death and the objects or situations they wish to reference when finding the total amount of non-economic damages.

However, the Texas Supreme Court did not find that there was insufficient evidence of Doel’s family experiencing mental anguish and other non-economic losses. Therefore, we can expect Doel’s family to still recover non-economic damages, albeit a smaller sum than the previous $15 million award.

Depending on how strictly the lower courts choose to interpret this ban on unsubstantiated anchoring, we can expect there to be much higher standards on Texas personal injury cases moving forward. This may cap the overall compensation amounts significantly, as the plaintiffs will no longer be able to recover almost unlimited sums of money for victims of severe cases — especially wrongful death.

If you are dealing with a personal injury lawsuit or may be filing one in the future, make sure you retain the services of a skilled law firm to help you navigate these new Texas personal injury standards.


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