Punitive Damages: Holding Reckless Drivers Accountable

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Don't settle for less. Punitive damages can provide additional compensation in egregious car accident cases. Learn how punitive damages are calculated.
March 18, 2024

The Role Punitive Damages Play In Holding Reckless Drivers Accountable

Reckless drivers are a danger to themselves and their community. In every American state, the law allows injured victims to seek additional compensation from dangerous drivers via punitive damages. Car accident victims must understand how are punitive damages calculated. This allows them to hold grossly negligent drivers accountable for their reckless actions.

What Are Punitive Damages?

Understanding the punitive damages meaning involves recognizing its other names. Enhanced damages, exemplary damages, penal damages, or corrective damages are some of the other names for punitive damages. These damages are just another example of tort damages. They offer compensation above and beyond compensatory damages.

Compensatory damages make plaintiffs whole for tangible losses like medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering. To define punitive charges, a form of tort liability, means to punish the defendant and deter grossly negligent conduct. This provides a punitive damages example that serves as a deterrent for future misconduct. The theory is that if the additional punishment is severe enough, it will prevent future recurrences. According to O.C.G.A. § 51-12-5.1, these enhanced damages apply to cases that involve:

· Reckless behavior

· Intentional wrongdoing

· Willful misconduct

· Gross negligence

· Malice

· Fraud

· Conscious indifference to consequences

For personal injury plaintiffs, exemplary damages send a message that dangerous driving will not go unpunished.

When Do Punitive Damages Apply?

Plaintiffs may pursue punitive damages when a driver’s blatant disregard for safety and human life meets the criteria of what qualifies for punitive damages. Examples of

punitive damages cases and scenarios that could warrant an award of this additional compensation include:

· Driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol

· Hit & Run

· Reckless driving

· Road rage or aggressive driving

· Excessive speeding

· Distracted driving

· Knowingly operating a defective vehicle

· And much more…

Additionally, a stricter standard of proof applies to cases seeking an award for punitive damages for negligence. Georgia law specifically allows for penal damages when there is clear and convincing evidence. That evidence must show willful misconduct, malice, fraud, wantonness, oppression, or conscious indifference to consequences.

The clear and convincing standard is higher than the typical proof required in a negligence claim. Plaintiffs in negligence claims must offer proof by a preponderance of the evidence. Preponderance just means more likely than not or more than 50.1% correct.

The clear and convincing standard is greater than preponderance of the evidence. However, it is less than beyond a reasonable doubt, as seen in criminal cases.

Calculating Punitive Damage Awards

If supported by the evidence, a jury has the ability to determine the amount of corrective damages awarded. Factors the jury may consider include:

· The reprehensibility of the misconduct

· The plaintiff’s vulnerability

· The relationship between the parties

· The probability of repeated occurrences

· The at-fault driver’s driving and criminal histories

Any one of these aggravating circumstances may increase the punitive damages insurance may have to cover.

However, one must be aware of the punitive damage caps by state. No state has an outright ban on these damages. However, some states impose more restrictive conditions for awarding enhanced damages. Even in Georgia, different rules apply to different tort cases.

For instance, there are punitive damage caps in Georgia for product liability cases at $250,000. Yet if the defendant:

· Acted with specific intent to cause harm,

· Acted or failed to act while under the influence, or

· Injured the Plaintiff because of a product liability

then there is no cap of damages. The awards for punitive damages can many times significantly outweigh the compensatory damages awarded. A jury once ordered U.S. Steel to pay $50 million in compensatory damages and $200 million in punitive damages. Additionally, a plaintiff who receives punitive damages may also recover attorneys’ fees under O.C.G.A. Section § 13-6-11.

The Role of Insurance

Lately, insurers have been attempting to exclude punitive damages from coverage. In Georgia the minimum insurance limits are $25,000 per person and $50,000 per accident. Such an exclusion would apply only to any portion of the settlement or verdict that exceeds the minimum limits. You can still get punitive damages awarded within the first $25,000 in coverage.

For those insurance companies without a punitive damages exclusion, they will pay a significant premium to resolve the case. This premium comes on top of any compensatory or liquidated damages in a settlement or verdict. The only issue at that point is whether the at-fault driver committed an intentional tort. If so, the defendant’s actions may alleviate the insurer from paying a settlement of verdict.

How Do You Get Punitive Damages in a Personal Injury Lawsuit

You must specifically identify that you are claiming punitive damages when filing a lawsuit in a personal injury case. Otherwise, you may waive the claim for such damages. You do not need to allege a specific amount, but you must claim they apply to the claim and lawsuit.

Included in the complaint will be claims for compensatory damages. This includes actual damages, i.e. tangible or economic losses as well as non-economic or intangible damages. For more on compensatory damages, check out our recent article on the subject.

Procedural Requirements

In a jury trial involving punitive damages, Georgia requires two separate trial stages, known as a bifurcated trial. This is a core component of compensatory vs punitive damages in tort law. In the first portion of the trial, a jury decides the typical issues of liability, causation and damages. This first trial is all about compensating the plaintiff.

If the jury finds punitive damages warranted, a second trial starts to decide the award amount. In cases where punitive damages were awarded, the jury generally send a clear message. That message is that dangerous driving will not go unpunished. The

verdict form will then specify the amount of compensatory damages, nominal damages, general damages, and punitive damages.

During the next stage, your attorney must answer your question: are punitive damages taxable? This requires your attorney to analyze the release and verdict form language. If the punitive damages are part of a lump sum in the settlement or verdict, they are not taxable. If listed separately, the punitive damages portion of the settlement or verdict becomes subject to taxation.

Pursuing punitive damages requires expertise in personal injury law. If you or a loved one have been injured in a situation where punitive damages apply, you need to hire an experienced injury attorney to protect your rights!

Let Our Georgia Personal Injury Lawyers Help You

At Georgia Trial Attorneys, we help injured victims recover compensation, as quickly as possible. Our firm includes veteran trial lawyers along with skilled paralegals and legal assistants handling every aspect of your case. This allows us to provide elite representation while advancing your claim efficiently.

If you have suffered an injury in an accident caused by someone else’s negligence, call now for a free strategy session. We will discuss your situation, rights, and how to win the compensation you deserve. Our dedication to clients has resulted in millions recovered.

Or if you’re asking yourself, ‘why is my lawyer taking so long to settle my case?’ Or if you’ve got questions about the auto accident settlement timeline, we’re happy to help. Start by CALLING 833-4TheWin or engaging with our online chat to get things moving.

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