Georgia Product Liability Laws and Punitive Damages in Georgia
Georgia Product Liability Laws, Time Limits and Punitive Damages
TITLE 51 - TORTS (2010)
CHAPTER 1 - GENERAL PROVISIONS
§ 51-1-11 - When privity required to support action; product liability action and time limitation therefore; industry-wide liability theories rejected
Whenever we purchase a product, we are placing our trust in the manufacturer and seller of that product. We eat food and trust that it is not contaminated with harmful bacteria, take medications and trust that they will not cause horrible side effects, and we drive in cars and trust that the brakes will not fail us. Part of the reason that our products are typically safe is that we have laws to product consumers. In the event that a product is defective in such a way that it harms someone, the person or corporation that sold the product or manufactured it will be liable to the injured person for damages. Damages can include the cost of medical care, lost wages, property damage, pain and suffering and emotional distress. Another type of damages that are sometimes awarded are punitive damages, which are different from the other types of damages because they are not meant to compensate the injured person, but rather to punish the person or company responsible for the harm.
When is a product defective?
A product is defective when it has a flaw as the result of faulty design, manufacturing or if it lacks adequate warnings. A design flaw causes a product to be defective even when it is produced to the specifications of its design, whereas a manufacturing defect occurs when the product is designed properly, but something went wrong in the manufacturing process. For instance, a medication that has horrible side effects might be defective as the result of a design flaw, whereas a medication that was dangerous because it was contaminated in the manufacturing process would be a manufacturing flaw. A warning defect would occur if the medication was safe when used as directed, but failed to have a clear and adequate warning printed on it that it was dangerous if used under different circumstances.
When are punitive damages awarded?
In Georgia, punitive damages may be awarded in cases where there is “clear and convincing evidence that the defendant’s actions showed willful misconduct, malice, fraud, wantonness, oppression, or that the entire want of care which would raise the presumption of conscious indifference to consequences.” This means that there is a higher evidentiary standard for punitive damages than for other damages and that the defendant’s conduct must be more reprehensible than normal negligence. If, for example, a company had full knowledge that some of their painkillers were likely contaminated with a harmful substance, but willfully chose not to recall them because it would have been expensive, there would likely be a case for punitive damages.
How much can an injured person collect in punitive damages in Georgia?
Georgia places a punitive damages cap of $250,000 for most tort claims. However, this cap does not apply to products liability claims. The purpose of punitive damages is to punish the defendant, and the amount set is meant to be “sufficient to deter, penalize, or punish the defendant.” In a products liability claim against a large corporation, the trier of fact might find that a very large punitive damages award would be necessary to deter the defendant.
It is important to note though, that an extremely high punitive damages award in the event of a products liability claim will not necessarily mean a windfall for the plaintiff. When products liability claims result in punitive damages, 75% of the punitive damages award will go to the Office of the State Treasurer.
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