The money awarded in personal injury lawsuits can be divided into three categories: economic damages and non-economic damages (collectively called compensatory damages), and punitive damages.
Unlike compensatory damages, punitive damages are not always awarded in every case. In fact, it is unusual to receive punitive damages in a personal injury lawsuit.
Compensatory Damages Vs. Punitive Damages
The purpose of a typical personal injury settlement is to compensate the victim for their damages, which are everything they lost or suffered as a result of the other party’s negligence.
Economic damages have a specific dollar value attached to them. They usually include things like the victim’s medical expenses, paychecks they missed because they were unable to work while recovering, and other expenses they incurred as a result of their injuries.
But victims of accidents don’t only deserve compensation for their physical injuries; they deserve compensation for all the ways their injury negatively affects their lives.
Non-economic damages can’t be easily calculated and assigned a dollar value. In addition to physical pain, victims of accidents often suffer from stress, anxiety, and depression. Their injuries may prevent them from enjoying hobbies or participating in their usual home lives. Their relationships with friends, family, and coworkers may suffer. They deserve compensation for these losses, too. This type of compensation is commonly called “pain and suffering.”
How much money victims receive in non-economic damages is usually decided by the jury in a personal injury lawsuit. When settling out of court, how much victims receive is usually a multiple of their economic damages. For example, their non-economic damages may be twice the amount of the economic damages they’re awarded in their settlements.
Punitive damages are different. Unlike economic and non-economic damages, punitive damages are not awarded in order to compensate the victim. Instead, the at-fault party is ordered to pay them as punishment for their negligence. Punitive damages are also usually very large, because the jury also wants to scare other potential perpetrators with a show of the consequences for reckless, endangering behavior.
When awarding punitive damages, the jury acts as the conscious of the community by punishing the activity that puts the community at risk.
When are Punitive Damages Awarded?
Punitive damages are typically only awarded when the at-fault party showed “wanton, malicious, or gross negligence,” i.e., the kind that isn’t only the result of a bad decision or mistake.
Punitive damages must be first requested by the victim’s attorney, and then granted only with the judge’s approval. And before the judge will grant punitive damages, which are decided on by the jury, the victim’s legal team will have to prove one of the following circumstances applies:
- The at-fault party intentionally harmed the victim.
- The at-fault party intentionally acted in an extremely reckless way that they knew could potentially harm someone, even if they didn’t specifically intend to harm the victim.
- The at-fault party committed fraud.
In generally, any time someone does something that they know is dangerous to other people but then does it anyway, the victim may have a case for punitive damages.
What are Common Examples of Cases When You Can Get Punitive Damages?
Because punitive damages require extreme negligence, a typical fender bender won’t usually qualify. But a hit-and-run or a drunk driving crash could. Many victims of drunk driving crashes qualify for punitive damages, and they should pursue them when possible.
Physical and sexual assault are also cases where punitive damages are typically awarded.
Another example could be when companies have a dangerous product that they were aware was dangerous, but did not fix the problem because they thought it was too expensive or inconvenient to do so.
If you think your injury does or should qualify for punitive damages, make sure to speak to your lawyer about it. Our law firm offers free consultations and can help you determine if your injury qualifies for punitive damages.
How Much Can You Get in Punitive Damages?
Georgia law caps punitive damages at $250,000. However, there are three major exceptions:
- When the victim is harmed by a dangerously defective product.
- When the at-fault party intentionally harmed the victim.
- When the at-fault party was under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
In these cases, there is no cap on how much punitive damages the at-fault party could be ordered to pay. However, that doesn’t mean that the victim will always receive all that money.
In defective product injury claims, 75% of the punitive damages awarded are paid to the state of Georgia, with the injury victim receiving 25%. But even that is extra compensation that the victim otherwise wouldn’t be receiving.
Gary Bruce Helps Victims of Negligence Collect Punitive Damages
When people are extraordinarily reckless and other people are hurt as a result, it’s only fair that they should be punished financially, and the law agrees.
If you or someone you love was hurt because of an act of excessive negligence, contact our firm today. We want to help you get all the money you are owed, and to help hold the negligent party responsible for their actions.
Contact our firm today for a free consultation.