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Punitive Damages & Personal Injury Cases

Most personal injury cases seek compensation to make up for losses a victim suffered in an accident. Think about damages for medical bills, lost wages, or property damage. Even intangible losses like pain or emotional distress warrant some compensation so that the victim is made “whole” again.

In some situations, Georgia law also allows victims to seek punitive damages, also called “vindictive damages.” These are very different from the compensatory damages listed above. The goal of punitive damages is to punish defendants for reprehensible conduct. For this reason, punitive damages apply in only a small subset of cases.

At Stewart Miller Simmons Trial Attorneys, our Atlanta personal injury lawyers always analyze whether we can seek punitive damages on behalf of our clients. Below, we highlight some of the important considerations.

When Can You Seek Punitive Damages?

Under O.C.G.A. § 51-12-5.1(b), you can seek punitive damages for the following conduct by the defendant:

  • Willful misconduct
  • Wantonness
  • Malice
  • Oppression
  • Fraud

Not all personal injury suits warrant a request for punitive damages. For example, if someone carelessly forgot to use a turn signal and caused a crash, then their conduct is not of a willful or malicious nature.

However, you might qualify for punitive damages for:

  • Drunk driving collisions
  • Hit and run accidents
  • Violent attacks

We also seek punitive damages when someone is a repeat offender. For example, an apartment building might not have locks on the windows, and a thief sneaks in and assaults the tenant. If the landlord still refuses to put locks on the window and someone is attacked again, then their conduct is willful and malicious.

What Evidence Do You Need?

In the typical personal injury case, we only need evidence that shows the defendant was negligent by a preponderance of the evidence. That is a low standard. Basically, it means that it is more likely than not that the defendant is responsible for your injuries.

By contrast, we need to prove punitive damages by clear and convincing evidence. This is a higher bar to clear and usually requires higher quality evidence, like blood tests or solid witnesses.

How Much Can You Receive in Punitive Damages?

It depends on the case. The purpose of punitive damages is to punish and deter others from committing these bad acts. It’s up to the jury to decide what amount will accomplish that goal.

However, there are limits. Georgia has a statutory cap on punitive damages which applies in most cases. You can get more than the statutory cap if the defendant intentionally hurt you or was acting under the influence of drugs or alcohol at the time. This is good news for drunk driving victims, who can seek the maximum penalties possible against the driver who struck them.

Call Us to Learn More

Where punitive damages are available, our Atlanta personal injury lawyers will seek them. We understand the process for requesting punitive damages the right way and will search for quality evidence to establish your right to them. To find out more, call Stewart Miller Simmons Trial Attorneys today at (404) 529-3476.

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