Understanding Punitive Damages in Georgia Personal Injury Claims
Depending on the circumstances of a Georgia personal injury claim, punitive damages might be available as a form of damages beyond a plaintiff's compensatory damages. However, the burden of proof that applies to conduct justifying punitive damages is subject to the "clear and convincing" evidence standard. This is a substantially higher burden than the "preponderance of the evidence" standard that applies to a compensatory damage award.
The function of punitive damages is different than the purpose of other forms of damages recoverable in a personal injury lawsuit. General damages and special damages are both intended to compensate the victim for his or her loss. General damages include non-economic type loss, such as pain and suffering, mental anguish and diminished enjoyment of life experiences. Special damages refer to economic out-of-pocket loss that includes lost wages, vehicle damage, medical bills and future diminished earning capacity. Unlike these damages that are intended to "make the victim whole", punitive damages are intended to punish a wrongdoer and deter similar conduct in the future.
The right to punitive damages can exist in cases where the at-fault party's actions exhibit wantonness, malice, oppression, fraud, willful misconduct or such a total lack of care as to create a presumption of conscious indifference to the consequences of one's actions. O.C.G.A. Section 51-13-5.1(b).
A skilled Georgia personal injury attorney can have a significant impact when arguing for a punitive damage award. In the context of punitive damages, the insurance company and/or jury can be informed of prior incidents of misconduct. This information is provided so that the jury can determine the amount of financial punishment that is necessary to deter similar misconduct by the defendant in the future. If you are represented by an experienced Atlanta personal injury attorney, he or she will investigate to identify a prior pattern of behavior that includes similar wrongful acts.
Some of the types of situations that might justify punitive damages in a personal injury lawsuit include:
- Hit and Run: If a driver flees the scene of an accident rather than staying to render assistance as required by law, this can justify a punitive damage award. A prompt investigation is necessary to identify the hit and run driver and seek punitive damages.
- Drunk Driving (Driving under the Influence): If the at-fault driver in your accident is operating a vehicle while impaired by alcohol, this will often justify punitive damages. Driving under the influence of alcohol is precisely the type of unsafe driving practice that punitive damages are intended to deter.
- Drag Racing: When drivers race down streets at high rates of speed, this type of conduct might result in a punitive damage award.
- Intentional Acts/Road Rage: When a driver uses his or her vehicle as a weapon by ramming another vehicle or driving into a pedestrian in a fit of road rage, this type of conduct would typically justify punitive damages.
- Acts of Violence: If a perpetrator commits a physical battery, sexual battery, assault or other form of intentional act of violence or intimidation that causes another individual to suffer injury, this might justify punitive damages.
If you or a family member is injured by the negligent, reckless or intentional conduct of an individual, business or government entity, contact our experienced Atlanta personal injury attorneys to learn how we can help you obtain financial compensation.
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