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Understanding Punitive Damages

Many clients are unaware of the term “punitive” damages. In most cases, a client should expect the courts to reward only compensatory damages, but sometimes in cases with certain facts, there is the possibility that judge and jury will choose to serve a more severe punishment to the defendant (the person who caused the situation).

First, What are Compensatory Damages? 
Compensatory Damages are designed to compensate people for their injuries, pain and suffering, financial losses, in addition to any other reasonable loss suffered as a direct result of the incident. If a defendant is found negligent in a case, then it is possible that the court will decide that the person (or entity) should pay for the damages.

Now, When can I get Punitive Damages?

In some cases, the court will find that the defendant has acted with extreme negligence, or that there is reason to fear that the same situation could arise again. Punitive damages are specifically intended to punish a defendant whose conduct was particularly bad and to deter him (and others) from engaging in similar conduct in the future. When this is the case, the judge and jury may award punitive damages, which are totals above and beyond those included in the list of compensatory damages.  It is important to note, 
 that rarely will a court order a defendant to pay punitive damages unless compensatory damages were also assessed. Very often the amount of punitive damages will be calculated as a percentage of the compensatory value of the case.

Examples where Punitive Damages may be assessed:

Hit and Run
Multiple Prior DUI convictions
Reckless, willful, wanton conduct or shows a conscious disregard for the consequences (could be proven through the defendant’s social media postings)

See Georgia Code below:

O.C.G.A. 51-12-5.1 (2010)
51-12-5.1. Punitive damages

(a) As used in this Code section, the term “punitive damages” is synonymous with the terms “vindictive damages,” “exemplary damages,” and other descriptions of additional damages awarded because of aggravating circumstances in order to penalize, punish, or deter a defendant.

(b) Punitive damages may be awarded only in such tort actions in which it is proven by clear and convincing evidence that the defendant’s actions showed willful misconduct, malice, fraud, wantonness, oppression, or that entire want of care which would raise the presumption of conscious indifference to consequences.

(c) Punitive damages shall be awarded not as compensation to a plaintiff but solely to punish, penalize, or deter a defendant.

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