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What Evidentiary Standard Must be Met for a Georgia Jury to Award Punitive Damages?

Posted in Personal Injury on August 2, 2021

When a person sustains an injury caused by the careless or negligent actions of another individual, business, or entity, they should be able to recover various types of compensation. In most personal injury lawsuits, individuals are able to receive compensation for their economic and non-economic losses. This can include coverage of their medical bills, lost wages, property damage expenses, pain and suffering damages, and more.

However, in some situations, punitive damages may also be awarded by a personal injury jury. Punitive damages are typically reserved for situations where the conduct of the defendant was determined to be especially egregious or intentional. Here, we want to discuss the evidentiary standards that need to be met in order for a jury to be able to award punitive damages to a personal injury victim in Georgia.

Defining Punitive Damages in Georgia

When we turn to Georgia law related to punitive damages, we can see that these damages can be awarded in personal injury and wrongful death lawsuits only if there are “aggravating circumstances” involved (O.C.G.A. § 51-12-5.1).

These types of damages are meant to “penalize, punish, or deter” the defendant in question in the personal injury or wrongful death case.

It is important to understand that punitive damages are not awarded for the vast majority of injury or wrongful death claims. In order for these damages to be awarded to a defendant, there are certain evidentiary standards that have to be met.

The Evidentiary Standards for Punitive Damages in Georgia

When a jury is determining how much compensation to award for a personal injury or wrongful death claim, there typically only has to be a “preponderance of evidence” that the defendant caused the injury or death.

However, when punitive damages are being considered, they “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.” We can see this is written into O.C.G.A. § 51-12-5.1(b).

For punitive damages, there must be “clear and convincing evidence” against the defendant. This is the highest standard required for a jury to find a defendant liable for damages.

Are There Punitive Damage Caps?

There are various limitations, or caps, put into place for punitive damages in Georgia. These caps depend on the type of case in question:

  • For cases revolving around defective products, punitive damages can only be awarded one time against a particular defendant, regardless of how many lawsuits arise as a result of the faulty product. There is no limit to the total amount of money that can be awarded for punitive damages in a product liability claim. However, 75% of the punitive damages will go to the state of Georgia (after the costs of litigation and attorney’s fees are taken out).
  • In cases where it is determined that the defendant specifically intended to cause harm to another person (such as an assault with a crowbar), or when the defendant was negligent because they were under the influence of alcohol or drugs, there is no cap on punitive damages that can be awarded to victims.
  • For any other type of personal injury or wrongful death case, punitive damages in Georgia will be limited to $250,000.

It is crucial for any personal injury victim or family bringing a wrongful death claim to court to work with a skilled attorney in these situations. An attorney will be able to conduct a complete investigation into the case and handle the proper calculation of all damages.

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