If you have been injured in an accident, you may be wondering what type…
Punitive damages are an important aspect to consider in a personal injury case. The personal injury attorneys at The Fitzpatrick Firm are here to provide some insight into the complicated topic.
What Are Punitive Damages In Georgia?
By definition, punitive damages are essentially legal reimbursements that a defendant must pay along with whatever compensatory or general damages are owed.
Typically punitive damages outweigh compensatory/general damages by a great margin. The reason for this is that punitive damages are supposed to punish offenders for grievous actions.
By the same token, excessive punitive damages not only will deter the defendant from committing the same crime or action again but also will prevent future offenders from making similar mistakes.
How Do You Get Punitive Damages In A Personal Injury Lawsuit?
Punitive damages are awarded in addition to compensatory damages in a personal injury lawsuit. They are designed to punish the wrongdoer and deter future misconduct. In order to receive punitive damages, you must prove that the defendant's actions were willful or reckless.
This is a higher standard than negligence, which simply requires that the defendant failed to exercise reasonable care.
If you are successful in proving that the defendant's actions were willful or reckless, the jury will then consider whether punitive damages are appropriate. The amount of punitive damages will depend on a variety of factors, including the severity of the injury and the defendant's financial resources.
While punitive damages can be a significant amount of money, they are often difficult to obtain.
Difference Between/Examples of Punitive, Compensatory, and General Damages
There are three main types of damages that may be awarded in a civil suit: punitive, compensatory, and general.
Punitive damages are intended to punish the defendant for particularly egregious behavior and deter others from similar conduct.
Compensatory damages are designed to compensate the plaintiff for actual losses suffered as a result of the defendant's actions. Finally, general damages are awarded for more intangible losses, such as emotional distress or loss of reputation.
In some cases, multiple types of damages may be awarded.
For example, a plaintiff who suffers physical injuries, as well as emotional trauma, may receive both compensatory and general damages.
The type and amount of damages that are available in a particular case will depend on the facts and circumstances of the case, as well as the applicable law.
When cases go to trial, jurors are read “jury charges” by the court that outline and layout definitions for the different types of damages. While unique jury charges can be drafted and submitted by attorneys as long as they have a basis in the law, courts frequently rely on “pattern” or standard jury charges for defining damages.
Some examples of pattern charges include:
Pain and Suffering (General Damages):
Physical and mental pain and suffering can be part of the damage that is determined by a jury that is fair and impartial.
Recoverable pain and suffering include things that stop you from living life the way you want, like being in pain or not being able to do things you normally do. It can also include losing the ability to work or earn money. Pain and suffering that has already happened, as well as pain and suffering that might happen in the future, can be included in a settlement or court case.
Lost Wages (Compensatory):
Georgia law allows you to recover the amount of money you have lost as a result of your injury. This includes the time from when you got injured to the date of the trial. The amount of money you can recover must be able to be determined with some certainty.
Aggravating circumstances can sometimes lead to the awarding of additional damages called punitive damages in personal injury lawsuits.
Before you award punitive damages, the plaintiff must prove that the defendant's actions were done on purpose and with bad intentions. The plaintiff must also show that the defendant was careless and did not care about the consequences of their actions.
The plaintiff must prove that the defendant is liable for punitive damages by a higher standard than that for proof of other damages; that is, by clear and convincing evidence.
Types of Cases Where Punitive Damages Have Been Awarded
Punitive damages are most commonly awarded in cases involving intentional torts, such as assault, battery, or fraud.
An experienced attorney will know how to build a strong case and present it in a way that is most likely to convince a judge or jury to award punitive damages.
However, punitive damages may also be available in other types of cases, such as:
- Medical malpractice
- Product liability
What is the Standard of Proof Required to Recover Punitive Damages?
For a personal injury claim to be successful in recovering punitive damages, the standard of proof is much higher when attempting to establish that the defendant’s action(s) was/were egregious.
When it comes to negligence claims, you must prove all components of the claim by a “preponderance of evidence.”
When an attorney wants to get punitive damages, they need to prove that the defendant's actions were done on purpose and that they showed bad intentions. The attorney must also show that the defendant was careless and did not care about the consequences of their actions. This is all shown by what is called "clear and convincing evidence."
The “clear and convincing evidence” standard of proof is a step up from the “preponderance of evidence.”
Are There Any Limits on the Total Amounts Recoverable?
If you are seeking to add punitive damages to your personal injury lawsuit, it is important to understand that there are limits on the total amount that can be awarded.
According to Georgia state law and the Georgia Constitution, the maximum punitive award cannot exceed $250,000.
However, there are three specific circumstances in which damages are not limited to this amount.
First, when it comes to product liability claims, the plaintiff receives only a portion of the punitive damages - the rest is awarded to the State of Georgia.
Second, if it is found by the court that the defendant acted with deliberate intent or malice, there is no cap on the number of punitive damages awarded. In order to avoid the cap, the party seeking punitive damages must request both a charge on specific intent to cause harm and a separate finding of specific intent to cause harm by the trier of fact.
Lastly, in cases where the defendant was drunk or impaired by any means, no limit exists.
If you are seeking to add punitive damages to your personal injury lawsuit, it is important that you understand these limitations and how they may impact your case.
For Personal Injury Lawsuits Involving Punitive Damages In Georgia, Trust The Experts At The Fitzpatrick Firm
If you have been injured and are considering seeking punitive damages, contact the Fitzpatrick Firm today. We have years of experience fighting for the rights of injury victims, and we know how to get the best results for our clients.
We offer free consultations, so you can learn more about your legal options without any obligation. To schedule yours, call us at (678) 607-5553 or fill out our online form.