Punitive Damages

If you suffer an injury from someone else’s misconduct, you can probably demand monetary damages from the at-fault party. Georgia personal injury law recognizes three types of damages-–economic damages, non-economic damages, and punitive damages. 

Even if you win economic damages and non-economic damages, you will find it difficult (but not necessarily impossible) to win punitive damages. 

Context: Compensatory Damages

“Compensatory” damages are all damages that compensate you for your losses–in other words, all of your economic and non-economic damages.

Economic Damages

Economic damages include compensation for all losses that are easy to count, such as:

  • Medical bills;
  • Lost earnings;
  • Child care while you were recovering in the hospital and at home;
  • House cleaning and other similar services while you were recovering; and
  • Other tangible expenses, such as medical equipment, prescription drug copays, and more.

“Economic damages” can also include reimbursement for speculative future losses, such as future medical expenses and diminished earning capacity at your job.

Non-Economic Damages

Non-economic damages reimburse you for intangible losses. They can reimburse you for any intangible loss that carries a causal connection with your accident. Examples of economic damages include:

  • Pain and suffering;
  • Emotional distress;
  • Loss of consortium (the injured party’s spouse files this claim for their own distress);
  • Inconvenience;
  • Physical discomfort;
  • Disfigurement (for example, facial scarring);
  • Inconvenience;
  • Loss of enjoyment of life; and
  • Loss of care, companionship, counsel, and advice (in a wrongful death claim filed by survivors).

This list is not exhaustive. If a non-pecuniary loss is reasonable, you might win a claim for it.

What’s Different About Punitive Damages

What’s different about punitive damages is that they are designed not to compensate you for your losses. Instead, they are meant to punish the defendant for bad conduct. The idea is to make an example of the defendant and to make them think twice before repeating the same behavior. Nevertheless, the money still goes to you.

Certain types of cases, such as wrongful death, drunk driving, and nursing home abuse claims, are likely to win more sympathy from a jury when you are seeking punitive damages. This is because these claims can involve conduct that most people view as especially egregious. 

However, Georgia law generally does not limit them to any particular type of case, as some other states do. Nonetheless, punitive damages can be difficult to qualify for and obtain.

What Is “Clear and Convincing Evidence”?

Clear and convincing evidence” is the standard you must meet to qualify your claim for punitive damages. It is the middle child among standards of proof. It is harder to meet than the common “preponderance of the evidence” standard, but it is easier to meet than the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard. 

Context: A “Preponderance of the Evidence”

The “preponderance of the evidence” standard is the standard you must meet to win economic and non-economic damages. It is one of the easiest standards of proof to meet. 

Under this standard, all you need to do is to present enough evidence to prove that your claim (or the legal element of the claim) is more likely than not to be true. A 51% likelihood is enough to win the day for you. 

Context: “Beyond a Reasonable Doubt”

“Beyond a reasonable doubt” or, as more commonly used, “Guilty beyond a reasonable doubt,” is the standard used to secure a criminal conviction. 

To some extent, “beyond a reasonable doubt” is self-explanatory. Theoretically, it is a very difficult standard to meet.

What Is “Clear and Convincing Evidence”?

You have presented “clear and convincing evidence” when your evidence is enough to produce a firm conviction in the mind of the judge or jury that your claim is true, even if some reasonable doubt remains.  

“Willful Misconduct, Malice, Fraud, Wantonness, Oppression…” 

To win punitive damages, the defendant’s mental state must have been describable by one of the words in this imposing string of adjectives. These words are designed to cover just about any conduct that is worse (or, perhaps, much worse) than mere negligence. 

“Wanton,” for example, means something like “reckless.” “Malice” certainly includes intentional misconduct, such as a “road rage” incident in which someone actually tries to hurt you.

Georgia’s Cap on Punitive Damages

Georgia caps punitive damages at $250,000, with certain exceptions. The judiciary in many states, such as Florida, has declared statutory limits on punitive damages unconstitutional–that is, a violation of the state constitution. The Georgia Supreme Court, by contrast, has affirmed the constitutionality of Georgia’s caps on punitive damages.

It’s Time To Talk to a Trusted Columbus Personal Injury Lawyer

Georgia courts do not like to award punitive damages. Don’t even try to win them without the help of a seasoned Columbus personal injury lawyer. Insurance companies do not cover punitive damages, and defendants will almost certainly refuse to agree to them. 

That leaves you with the option of seeking punitive damages in court You are definitely going to need a lawyer for that.

Contact an experienced Personal Injury Lawyer at Columbus, GA

We highly recommend reaching out to an experienced Columbus Personal Injury Attorney for guidance before taking any legal steps. Get in touch today with our personal injury law office, don’t hesitate to give us a call at (706) 940-4030 and schedule your free consultation. We’re here to help!