A Georgia personal injury lawsuit is a civil case, not criminal, so there is no jail or prison time at stake; however punishment may be available in the form of punitive damages. Sometimes a defendant’s behavior is so shocking and appalling that the law wants to do all that it can to prevent it from happening again. One way the law can do this is by making a defendant pay punitive damages. Punitive damages are also known as exemplary damages — damages meant to make an example out of the defendant so that behavior doesn’t continue.
Punitive Damages vs. Compensatory Damages
Compensatory damages in a personal injury case serve to compensate the victim for what they lost or spent, or any expenses accrued due to the accident. Compensatory damages are available to compensate a victim for a loss.
Punitive damages serve an entirely different purpose. Their purpose is not to compensate the plaintiff, although the plaintiff does receive the damage award. Courts and juries award punitive damages when the behavior of the defendant demonstrates an intentional disregard for the rights of another. Miller v. City Views at Rosa Burney Park GP, LLC, 323 Ga. App. 590 (2013). The purpose is to punish and deter the defendant from repeating the same action. As such, courts don’t award punitive damages in every personal injury case. Another important difference is that punitive damages have to be requested when the complaint is filed; otherwise, they cannot be pursued at trial — they are not automatically awarded.
Burden of Proof for Being Awarded Punitive Damages
The victim plaintiff must prove by “clear and convincing evidence that the defendant’s actions showed willful misconduct, malice, fraud, wantonness, oppression, or that entire want of care which would raise the presumption of conscious indifference to consequences.” Caldwell v. Church, 341 Ga. App. 852 (2017) quoting O.C.G.A. § 51-12-5.1. A good example of clear and convincing evidence under Georgia law is evidence that an adverse driver was drunk or under the infuence of drugs when he or she caused a car crash. This meets the “clear and convincing evidence” standard required for punitive damages.
Limits to Punitive Damages in Georgia
In most cases where punitive damages are awarded, Georgia has set a maximum limit of $250,000.
This maximum limit does not apply to product liability cases. There is also no maximum limit when a court finds that a defendant “acted or failed to act with the specific intent to cause harm, or that the defendant acted or failed to act while under the influence of alcohol [or] drugs.”
This means that if the defendant intended harm either by deliberately acting or doing nothing at all and allowing harm to come to the victim, the defendant could face punitive damages. If the defendant harmed the victim due to being intoxicated on either drugs or alcohol, punitive damages are likely to be awarded.
Contact Our Georgia Personal Injury Attorneys Today
If you or a loved one is a victim of a personal injury, punitive damages can and should be explored. You will need an experienced attorney in Georgia who can help you navigate the complex system. If you have questions about the law and your rights, contact our firm to schedule a free consultation by calling 833-LEGALGA.