Understanding How Punitive Damages Apply in Georgia Personal Injury Law
To understand punitive damages, you first need to understand how personal injury law works in general, and why the courts allow for different kinds of damages in the first place.
Personal injury is an area of law that awards compensation to people who have suffered injuries or losses as a result of someone else’s recklessness or negligence.
In Georgia, the primary goal of personal injury law is to put the injured party in the same position he or she would have been in had the defendant not been negligent (or at least as close to that position as possible).
In practical terms, this usually means that the defendant will have to pay financial compensation to the victim. In litigation, we refer to that compensation as the victim’s damages.
Generally speaking, there are two kinds of damages:
- Compensatory damages — Reimbursement for losses that the victim has sustained and/or will sustain in the future (e.g. hospital bills, medical expenses, lost income, etc.)
- Punitive damages — A financial punishment for the defendant’s wrongdoing
Because Georgia personal injury law is more interested in returning you to your original position than in punishing the defendant, most injuries are not eligible for punitive damages. There are exceptions, however, and in those rare cases, Georgia is willing to punish defendants by making them pay sometimes-extraordinary punitive damages to the victims.
When Can You Sue for Punitive Damages in Georgia?
Punitive damages are only available in the most extreme cases. As a general rule of thumb, the more shocking or immoral the defendant’s behavior, the more likely a plaintiff is to recover punitive damages.
Cases in which plaintiffs often recover punitive damages include:
- Unfair and deceptive trade practices
- Dangerous or defective products
- Theft (also known as conversion)
- Intentional, violent, or depraved acts
- Drunk driving (more on this below)
- Any case involving willful misconduct, malice, fraud, wantonness, or oppression
- Any case in which the defendant acts egregiously, apparently without regard for the potential consequences
Punitive Damages for Drunk Driving in Georgia
Unlike some other states, Georgia allows drunk driving victims to recover punitive damages after an auto accident. That’s because the state considers driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol to be so egregious that juries should be able to punish wrongdoers financially in order to discourage others from driving while drugged or drunk in the future.
A Savannah personal injury lawyer in our office can help you determine whether you are entitled to punitive damages for drunk driving in Georgia.
How Much Money Is Involved in a Punitive Damages Claim?
That depends on the specific nature of the offense and the injuries that result. Some offenses carry maximum punitive damage caps, while others are more open-ended. As a general rule, punitive damages must always be reasonably related to the underlying accident and injury. Nevertheless, the value of these claims is often substantial and can far outweigh the total compensatory damages.
Juries are allowed a great deal of discretion in deciding whether they will award punitive damages and, if so, the proper amount. The more shocking or egregious the facts, the larger the punishment will likely be.
At The Law Offices of B. Clarke Nash, P.C., a Savannah personal injury lawyer can work with you to determine the potential value of the damages in your case.
Who Gets the Money?
In most cases, the plaintiff.
Even though punitive damages are not designed as reimbursement for any specific losses, the money is nevertheless awarded to the plaintiff. (An exception applies in some cases, like those involving defective products, where the state receives part of the award.)
Punitive damages are awarded in addition to compensatory damages. So, for example, victims who suffer permanent spinal cord damage in a drunk driving accident will be entitled to reimbursement for their suffering and may also be awarded punitive damages, which are added to the total for the sole purpose of punishing the defendant.
Punitive Damages Require an Experienced Savannah Personal Injury lawyer
Because courts are reluctant to award punitive damages, it is your attorney’s job to make a compelling case to the jury that the defendant deserves significant punishment.
Recovering a punitive award can make an enormous difference in the outcome of your case. Indeed, many of the big-dollar lawsuit settlements and verdicts you have read about in the news involve punitive damages.
If your case is one that might qualify for punitive damages in Georgia, it’s critical that you hire a Savannah personal injury lawyer with extensive experience in punitive damages litigation.
These are complex and challenging claims, and you need an attorney who knows the ropes. You can count on B. Clarke Nash.
Questions? Talk to an Experienced Savannah Personal Injury Lawyer Today.
At The Law Offices of B. Clarke Nash, P.C., we are dedicated to fighting for every penny that you deserve. In especially serious, shocking, or catastrophic cases, that may very well include punitive damages.
Find out whether you have a case and how much it might be worth. Contact our office to set up a free case review with an experienced Savannah personal injury lawyer today.