Punitive damages, also known as exemplary or vindictive damages, are not meant to compensate a victim for an injury. Instead, they are typically awarded for three very specific reasons:
- To punish,
- To penalize, and
- To deter a defendant or others from acting in a similar manner.
Punitive damages are commonly allowed for a variety of reasons, including fraud, wantonness, drunk driving, oppression, or other conduct that exhibits a total disregard for the consequences of actions upon others.
Are Punitive Damages Available in Georgia?
In Georgia, a plaintiff must ask for punitive damages when he files a lawsuit, but punitive damages are not allowed under Georgia law unless a jury returns a verdict in favor of the plaintiff on punitive damages. There must be clear and convincing evidence that the defendant’s actions exhibit exceptionally bad behavior. Negligence alone will not support a punitive damage award.
To recover punitive damages in Georgia, a party typically has to show conduct that is extreme and outrageous – the kind of behavior that a reasonable person would not want to encourage or accept.
In Georgia, punitive damages may not be awarded:
- Against the state of Georgia
- In breach of contract actions
- Concerning automobile collision cases where the driver at fault simply violated a rule of the road
Punitive damages are available in Georgia in environmental liability cases, bad faith insurance matters, and professional and product liability claims. We usually see them most often in DUI accidents and Hit and Run Collisions.
Split Recovery and Caps
Numerous states, including Georgia, have enacted split-recovery statutes, which provide for some percentage of every punitive damage award to be paid to the state treasury rather than the plaintiff. In Georgia for products liability actions only, this amount is 75 percent, the largest contributory provision in the country. The remaining 25 percent is generally paid to the plaintiff who was injured as a result of the defendant’s misconduct. This split-recovery statute only allpies to product liability actions. (Ie., not applicable in car collisions, premise liability actions, etc.)
Georgia also has a general punitive damage limit, or cap, of $250,000 except in product liability cases or when the court rules that the defendant intended to harm the plaintiff.