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Punitive Damages in Georgia

By Butler Prather LLP on December 14, 2020

Any person who sustains an injury caused by the careless or negligent actions of another individual, company, or entity should be able to recover compensation for their injuries and other losses. Most people are aware that a personal injury lawsuit could help a person gain various types of compensable damages, such as coverage of their medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering losses, and more. However, punitive damages may also be awarded in some circumstances. Here, we want to discuss what punitive damages are, under what circumstances they may be awarded, and whether or not there are any caps on the amount of personal damages that can be awarded.

What are punitive damages?

Punitive damages are designed to punish the wrongdoer in a personal injury case. These damages are not awarded in every personal injury lawsuit. Punitive damages are only allowed in personal injury lawsuits when it is determined that the actions of the defendant are especially egregious or intentional. When we turn to Georgia law (O.C.G.A. § 51-12-5.1(b)), we can see that punitive damages will only be awarded if the defendant’s conduct exhibited “willful misconduct, malice, fraud, wantonness, oppression, or that entire want of care which would raise the presumption of conscious indifference to consequences.”

Punitive damages must be specifically identified in a filed personal injury lawsuit, or it is assumed that the claim for these types of damages has been waived.

When might punitive damages be awarded and enjoy your personal injury case?

As we stated above, punitive damages are not awarded in every personal injury case. Some of the most common examples of when these damages are awarded include product liability cases when a pharmaceutical company or a medical device company willfully withholds data or test results that result in consumers being exposed to a high risk of injury or illness.

Additionally, other examples of particularly egregious conduct that could justify punitive damages include the following:

  • Robbery
  • Assault with a deadly weapon
  • Kidnapping
  • Nursing home or elder abuse
  • Sexual assault
  • Sexual conduct with a minor
  • Felony assault
  • Drunk driving
  • Drugged driving

Are there caps on punitive damages in Georgia?

Every state is responsible for setting limitations on the amount of damages that can be awarded in a personal injury lawsuit. Most states choose not to place a cap on punitive damages, but that is not the case in Georgia. Under Georgia law, there is typically a cap of $250,000 on punitive damages (O.C.G.A. § 51-12-5.1(g)). However, there are three exceptions to this punitive damage limitation:

  1. Product liability cases.
  2. When the defendant acted with specific intent to harm the injury victim.
  3. Cases in which the defendant was under the influence of alcohol or drugs (this does not apply to drugs that were legally prescribed or when the defendant consumed glue, aerosol, or other toxic vapor to the extent that their judgment was substantially impaired.

It is important to note that in product liability cases where there is no limitation on punitive damages, a plaintiff who receives such damages must give 75% of the punitive damage award to the state of Georgia. Speak with our Atlanta personal injury attorneys today.

Posted in: Personal Injury

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