Many people who come for the free case review with an Atlanta personal injury lawyer did a little online research about personal injury law in Georgia. The internet makes information easily accessible to anyone, even someone still recovering from serious injuries. Thus, these prospective clients ask what chances they have to seek punitive damages, not just economic and non-economic damages.
First of all, seeking punitive damages can be done only in a personal injury lawsuit. Any Atlanta personal injury lawyer attempts to settle your case as soon as possible, by negotiating with an insurance adjuster. Personal injury cases go to court only if the insurance company refuses to settle, or if the negligent party acted with utter recklessness or even willful intent in causing your injuries and economic damages.
Secondly, if you seek punitive damages, your burden of proof goes beyond indicating the other party’s negligence. Georgia law has very specific requirements for allowing plaintiffs to seek punitive damages.
Georgia Law on Punitive Damages
Punitive damages, or exemplary damages, are enshrined in the Official Code of Georgia 51-12-5.1. They represent additional damages awarded for aggravating circumstances in causing someone’s injuries and economic damages.
They are not a form of compensation for the plaintiff, but a supplementary punishment for the defendant. In order to be eligible to seek this type of damages, a plaintiff must prove with “clear and convincing” evidence that the at-fault party acted with:
- Willful intent
- Utter indifference to consequences.
This goes far beyond the usual requirements of proving negligence in a personal injury case. Also, the defendant’s actions must result in serious injuries and damages for the plaintiff.
Vicariously Responsible Parties Cannot Be Sued for Punitive Damages
Another important thing to remember is that only the active tortfeasor – the person who caused your injuries through their actions – can be punished by applying punitive damages. Any other vicariously responsible parties in your personal injury case are exempt.
For example, in a truck accident, punitive damages can be awarded only against the truck driver. Although their employer is also liable to pay your economic and economic damages through hiring negligence or in other ways, they did not play any active role in causing your injuries.
Examples of Personal Injury Cases that Qualify for Punitive Damages
Now, what type of negligent actions pushed to the extreme justify seeking punitive damages in court? These are the most common situations:
1. Car Accidents
As any Atlanta personal injury lawyer knows, some car drivers go beyond mere negligence in causing a crash. Reckless driving combined with DUI is one of the most common examples of utter disregard for other people’s safety. In this situation, the resulting car accident is catastrophic, resulting in some of the worst types of injuries.
2. Truck Accidents
Unfortunately, many truck drivers use controlled substances in an attempt to stay awake for longer times and make their deliveries according to the schedule. In this case, operating a very heavy vehicle under influence can be defined as wanton conduct.
3. Dog Bites
Although there are no state laws classifying dog breeds as aggressive or vicious, various towns and cities in Georgia have specific laws. These laws usually ban various dog breeds from dog parks and off-leash areas. The Responsible Dog Ownership Law also requires dog owners whose pet has injured or killed another pet or bit a person without causing serious injury to:
- Submit a yearly application for a certificate of registration for the dog
- Construct a secure enclosure for the dog
- Put warning signs around their property stating the presence of a dangerous dog.
Thus, if you are bitten by a dog and your Atlanta personal injury lawyer finds out that the owner failed to follow any of the above rules, you may be eligible to seek punitive damages.
4. Medical Malpractice
Doctors are supposed to save lives, not put them at risk. However, many doctors and nurses commit serious errors of judgment when treating a patient because they are under the influence of alcohol or controlled substances. Also, some medical devices have design or manufacturing errors, resulting in malfunctions that put patients’ lives at risk.
These are some instances in which an Atlanta personal injury lawyer would seek punitive damages in court on behalf of their client.
How Much Money Can You Receive in Punitive Damages?
All US states apply caps on punitive damages, and Georgia is no different. The maximum amount a jury may award in most cases is $250,000. However, there are three main exceptions to this rule:
- Product liability cases
- If the defendant was under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or other substances during the event that caused the plaintiff’s injuries
- If the defendant acted or failed to act with the specific intent to cause harm.
In any of these cases, your Atlanta personal injury lawyer knows that you have the option to win compensation in court significantly exceeding the settlement an insurance company would agree to pay. However, you must also remember that a lawsuit is a long and stressful process and that no one can guarantee the amount of punitive damages that a jury will agree to award.
Rely on an Experienced Atlanta Personal Injury Law Firm to Handle Your Case
At H Groves Law, we fight for each client and always seek to obtain the maximum compensation for injuries, economic damages, pain, and suffering.
In some cases, the actions of the at-fault party indicate a complete disregard for our client’s safety or even the intention to cause them harm. When we know we can present clear and convincing evidence of this type of behavior in a personal injury lawsuit, we may recommend seeking punitive damages.
We do not make this recommendation lightly. We know how difficult it is to recover from injuries and pay medical bills. Thus, we do not wish to prolong the time until you collect your damages from the at-fault party or their insurance company.
Your best choice is to present all the relevant circumstances of your accident during the free case review and let an experienced lawyer recommend the best legal option. Call our Atlanta injury law firm today at 770-329-1868!