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What Are Georgia’s Rules for Awarding Punitive Damages to Injury Victims?

Punitive damages occupy a special place in the Georgia legal system. Unlike damages for pain and suffering or for medical expenses, they are not meant to compensate a victim for a specific harm. Instead, they are intended to punish a person or organization who has acted dangerously and to deter others from repeating those actions in the future.

Georgia has strict rules determining when punitive damages, also called exemplary damages, can be awarded. Rules also place limits on the size of those awards while funneling the majority of the amount recovered to the state’s coffers.

When are punitive damages awarded, and what are the limits?

For a court to award punitive damages, the plaintiff must specifically ask for them in the complaint at the beginning of the case. A court will only award exemplary damages in a personal injury case when the defendant acted with “willful misconduct, malice, fraud, wantonness [or] oppression,” or in situations where the defendant exhibited such little care for the safety of others that they must have been consciously indifferent to the consequences of their actions.

Punitive damages in personal injury (tort) cases are generally limited to $250,000. However, three main exceptions exist. There is no limit on these damages in cases involving:

  • Defective products such as machinery, toys or tools
  • Defendants who intended to cause harm by their actions or inactions
  • Defendants who were drunk or intoxicated at the time of their negligent action or inaction

This means that those injured in auto accidents are typically limited to punitive damage awards of $250,000, except in cases involving a defective vehicle or an intoxicated driver. Beyond the limit placed on exemplary damages, recovery is further reduced based on a Georgia rule that usually sends 75 percent of that award to the state treasury.

If you or a loved one has suffered a serious injury in the Atlanta area, speak with a dedicated attorney at McMenamy Law LLC to find out about your legal options and the possibility of receiving punitive damages.