Norma Leigh Lucid is a competitor in the 2010 Punkin Chunkin Competition [1]. With just two weeks before the big event, Lucid was still fine tuning her thirty foot, artillery-grade air cannon capable of launching a 9 lb. pumpkin nearly one mile at over 600 mph. Early Sunday morning, Lucid test fired a pumpkin from her Highland Park residence directly east. She anticipated the pumpkin would land harmlessly in the middle of White Rock Lake. Unfortunately for Lucid, her calculations were wrong. The pumpkin struck and killed Bea Minor, a mother of two and accomplished opera singer who was jogging around the lake. Minor’s estate sued Lucid for compensatory damages and exemplary damages. Exactly what are exemplary damages and would they be awarded in this kind of case against Lucid?

Compensatory or actual damages repay a victim’s family for losses suffered because of the victim’s death (like lost wages). Texas is among a handful of states which allow recovery of exemplary damages (sometimes called punitive damages) in cases such as wrongful death. Exemplary damages are essentially a public policy means to punish a defendant and to warn others not to engage in similar reckless conduct. To collect exemplary damages, Norma Leigh Lucid’s conduct must have been either malicious or grossly negligent. Based upon the facts presented, it is highly probable that a jury would determine Lucid’s actions were grossly negligent, In other words, Lucid’s firing her pumpkin canon into a residential neighborhood necessarily involved an extreme degree of risk given the likelihood that serious injury could be inflicted. Moreover, Lucid had actual, subjective awareness of the risk involved in firing her canon but she knowingly proceeded with a conscious indifference to the safety of others. Factors that assist the jury in determining exactly how much Minor’s estate will receive in punitive damages include Lucid’s personal wealth (how much money in punitive damages is necessary to penalize Lucid), the nature of her conduct and any laws that limit the amount of punitive damages that can be awarded.


[1] For the uninitiated, The Punkin Chunkin Competition is an annual contest held in Delaware in November where participants try to launch a pumpkin as far as possible using various contraptions like catapults, air cannons and trebuchets. Visit to sign up!