What are Punitive Damages and When Can You Recover them?

Personal Injury

It’s not unusual in the aftermath of a personal injury case that has caused death or catastrophic injuries, for the injured person (or his family) to want not only justice, but to punish the wrongdoer as well.

Punitive Damages

The idea of punishment is not the focus of damages in civil law cases, however.

Damages in civil lawsuits are meant to make the plaintiff “whole.” In other words, they are intended to compensate the plaintiff (injured person) for his losses or injuries.

In most civil law cases, then, the award against the defendant is one for money damages.

In contrast, punitive damages are designed to do two things:

  1. punish the wrongdoer, and
  2. deter the defendant from doing it again, or deter others from doing the same thing.

Because punitive damages are not meant to compensate the victim for his or her injuries, but to punish the defendant, they are very rarely appropriate in personal injury cases.

That does not mean, however, that punitive damages are never appropriate in personal injury cases.

There are situations where they are appropriate.

When Are Punitive Damages Appropriate in Personal Injury Actions?

In fact, in Georgia, punitive damages are appropriate in any case where it can be proven by “clear and convincing evidence” that a defendant’s actions constituted willful misconduct, or were the product of malice, fraud, or oppression, or displayed a conscious indifference to the consequences.

Georgia’s statute makes it clear that punitive damages are imposed specifically to punish and deter a defendant. If a defendant was merely negligent— even grossly negligent—that is not enough to support an award of punitive damages.

A defendant’s conduct must be intentional. And it must be so depraved as to warrant punishment.

There are many situations where punitive damages have been imposed in civil law cases. Some of these include:

  • Tobacco cases
  • Product liability
  • DUI drunk driving
  • Nursing home abuse
  • Leaving the scene of an accident

The determination of whether a defendant’s actions authorize the imposition of punitive damages is generally left to the jury to decide.

Because they are not normally awarded in a civil case, proving punitive damages is not easy. It requires an experienced personal injury attorney to know when to seek punitive damages and how to prove them.

Personal Injury Attorneys in Cumming, Georgia. 

The personal injury attorneys at the Law Offices of Mark Weinstein, P.C., are here to help you. We serve clients in Atlanta, and in several counties throughout Georgia, including: Clayton County, Cobb County, Dekalb County, Douglas County, Fulton County, and Paulding County, among others.  To find out how we can help you, call us at: 770-888-7707. Or contact us here.

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