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What plaintiffs need to know about punitive damages in Georgia

On Behalf of | May 15, 2024 | Personal Injury

Georgia law often allows those affected by the bad decisions or misconduct of others to take legal action. Personal injury and wrongful death lawsuits create accountability for those who engage in dangerous behavior while reducing the negative impact that choices made by one party may have on others.

Insurance is usually the first line of financial defense for those affected by car crashes and similar incidents. If there isn’t insurance available or if the expenses are higher than what insurance covers, then a personal injury lawsuit could be necessary. Plaintiffs taking legal action can request compensation for economic losses, including medical bills and lost income. It is also sometimes possible for plaintiffs to seek punitive damages in a Georgia lawsuit.

Punitive damages are a form of punishment

Unlike economic damages, which reflect the impact an incident has had on the plaintiff, punitive damages are a form of punishment for the defendant. The goal is to create consequences for one party while simultaneously deterring others from engaging in similar conduct. There is more to prove in a case where plaintiffs seek punitive damages. To qualify for punitive damages, plaintiffs have to present compelling evidence that the incident involved intentional malice, gross negligence or fraud.

Punitive damages largely go to the state

While economic damages serve as a way to reimburse people for the bad choices of others, punitive damages have little basis in the negative impact an incident had on the plaintiff. Instead, the courts consider the fraud, malice or negligence of the defendant when making a determination on punitive damages. Therefore, punitive damages do not solely benefit the plaintiff. Under Georgia state law, 75% of the amount of punitive damages awarded in a personal injury or wrongful death lawsuit goes directly to the state. The remaining quarter of the punitive damages awarded are available to the plaintiff.

Typically, that division occurs after factoring in court costs, including reasonable attorney fees. Punitive damages can be a way to increase the value of a personal injury lawsuit and the consequences for the party at fault for an incident. As such, understanding Georgia’s rules for personal injury lawsuits can help plaintiffs make better choices about what they seek in civil court. Requesting punitive damages can be a reasonable response to a variety of different injurious situations.