We discuss in a separate article all the categories of damages an injury victim can pursue in a personal injury case. One of those categories that warrants a more in-depth discussion is the pursuit of punitive damages. Not all cases will allow for punitive damages and even if you can pursue them in your particular case, there are several things to know about how it works.
What Cases Can They Be Pursued In?
The short answer is when the injury is caused by the defendant’s very egregious conduct. Think violation of a criminal statute here.
For example, in a typical car accident case, punitive damages cannot be pursued. The defendant is negligent but did not engage in such horrible conduct at the time of the accident to warrant punitive damages.
However, if the car accident was caused by an intoxicated driver for example, punitive damages can be pursued. The defendant violated a criminal statute at the time of the accident. Same if the driver was texting at the time of the collision.
Purpose of Punitive Damages
Georgia allows punitive damages in a civil case as a means to punish the defendant for their egregious conduct that caused injury to another. Again, think of a criminal act that the civil side is punishing through a monetary award to the injury victim.
Let’s take an assault case as an example. The defendant shoots the plaintiff and the plaintiff survives. The defendant will face jail time in the criminal system. The civil system allows the plaintiff to recover against the defendant for his or her injuries, including medical expenses and pain and suffering caused.
The civil system would also allow the plaintiff to pursue punitive damages against the defendant to further punish him or her in a monetary sense for this deplorable conduct.
How Do You Bring A Punitive Damages Claim?
Punitive damages are sought just like the other categories of damages in a personal injury case through alleging them in your complaint against the defendant. The difference comes into play when the case is tried to a jury.
If punitive damages are alleged in a case, the court is required to split the trial into two phases. The first phase of the trial that must be determined by the jury is the traditional personal injury case plus whether punitive damages are warranted.
So in the first phase, the jury is determining what to award the plaintiff for his or her medical expenses, lost wages and pain and suffering and then determining whether punitive damages are warranted in the case. That is it. Just whether punitive damages are just. Not how much to award.
If the jury determines that punitive damages should be awarded to the plaintiff, the second phase of the trial begins. During this phase, the jury hears specific evidence about the defendant’s conduct warranting punitive damages and determines how much to award to the plaintiff.
Capping of Punitive Damages
Since the implementation of tort reform in 2005, punitive damages awards in many cases are capped at $250,000.00. It ultimately depends on the type of case in which punitive damages are being sought whether or not the award is capped.
Punitive Damages Can Change The Value Of A Case
There is no question that the ability to pursue a good punitive damages claim in a personal injury case adds tremendous value to the case. It often has the effect of increasing the value of the pain and suffering calculation as well. This is because jurors are often times more willing to award significant pain and suffering damages to a plaintiff in cases where the defendant’s conduct is egregious.
This is yet another reason why it is recommended that personal injury victims seek a consultation with a qualified and experienced personal injury lawyer early in the process. Knowing whether or not you have a punitive damages claim available to you is something every injury victim needs to know.