Anyone who is injured in an accident that wasn’t their fault is entitled to recover damages. Damages are usually money that’s paid to try to make things right—for example, by covering your medical bills. In some cases, however, the court will award a special kind of damages called punitive damages. This is extra money paid to the victim by the person at fault. It’s a form of punishment, and is usually used when the person who caused the injury broke the law.
Punitive damages are especially common in:
- Drunk driving accidents
- Nursing home abuse cases
- Any car accident where someone broke the law or behaved egregiously
How do punitive damages work?
Personal injury law allows victims to potentially recover two main types of damages: compensatory damages and punitive damages.
Compensatory damages are meant to compensate the victim for the losses they suffered. They are paid by the person responsible (or their insurance policy), but only up to the amount the victim has strictly lost from the accident. For example, if you were in a car accident and suffered $10,000 in medical expenses plus $2,000 in car repairs, you might ask for $12,000 in compensatory damages. You can also seek more in some cases when there are intangible losses you suffered, like physical pain and suffering.
Punitive damages go above and beyond paying back your actual losses. They are designed not just to help the victim but to punish a wrongdoer. The idea is that by forcing the wrongdoer to pay you extra money, the courts send a strong message that the behavior they engaged in will not be tolerated.
Punitive damages also reflect the idea that the victim of a crime or heinous act has been wronged beyond simply their injuries and losses. It’s a way to help offset the hardship the victim has suffered.
Does my case qualify for punitive damages?
In Georgia, state law says you can receive punitive damages if the person who injured you showed “willful misconduct, malice, fraud, wantonness, oppression, or that entire want of care which would raise the presumption of conscious indifference to consequences.” That’s a lot more than just momentary carelessness. For example, if someone hit your car because they were texting, they didn’t show malice or a lack of conscience; they just made a bad decision. But if someone hit your car because they were driving blindfolded on a dare, that’s such a lack of concern for other people that you could probably win punitive damages.
The clearest grounds for punitive damages are when the person broke the law, such as a drunk driver. However, any situation of extreme disregard for human wellbeing could count.
Have you been injured? John Foy & Associates offers a free consultation with some of the most experienced and respected personal injury lawyers in Georgia. Fill out the form to your right or call us at 404-400-4000 to get your FREE consultation today.