If you have been personally injured due to the fault of another person or entity, you may be wondering what type of damages you may be entitled to. “Damages” is the legal word for money that can be sought for an injury. Georgia allows for the potential award of two main types of damages: compensatory and punitive. Compensatory damages are intended to reimburse the plaintiff for actual losses incurred due to the injury. On the other hand, punitive damages are not about compensation but rather punishment. They are awarded to penalize the defendant for particularly reckless or malicious behavior and to deter similar actions in the future. Each of these damages serves a different purpose and is determined by different criteria.
- Compensatory Damages: Compensatory damages are intended to reimburse the plaintiff for losses suffered due to the injury. They are calculated based on the specific harm and loss incurred by the plaintiff. There are two types of compensatory damages:
- 1) Economic Damages: These are quantifiable monetary losses and include:
- Medical Expenses: Costs of medical treatment, both current and future, related to the injury.
- Lost Wages: Compensation for the income lost due to the inability to work, including potential future earnings.
- Property Damage: If any property was damaged as a result of the incident causing the injury.
- 2) Non-Economic Damages: These are more subjective and include:
- Pain and Suffering: Compensation for physical pain and emotional distress. This includes pain and suffering, permanent impairment or disability, emotional and psychological trauma, wrongful death, and reputational damage.
- Loss of Consortium: Damages for the impact on the relationship with a spouse.
- Loss of Enjoyment of Life: Compensation for the inability to enjoy hobbies and other life pleasures.
- Punitive Damages: Punitive damages are not intended to compensate the plaintiff but rather to punish the defendant for particularly reckless behavior and to prevent similar conduct in the future (O.C.G.A. § 51-12-5.1( g)). Unlike compensatory damages, punitive damages are not tied to the plaintiff’s actual losses but are rather a separate monetary amount determined by the court. In Georgia, punitive damages are typically reserved for cases where the defendant’s actions were willfully malicious, fraudulent, wanton, or grossly negligent. Punitive damages are awarded when a higher standard of misconduct is met, and not every personal injury claim will meet this standard.
- There is, in general, a cap on the award of punitive damages. Some punitive awards are capped at $250,000. However, there are three important exceptions to this limit:
1) Product liability claims are not limited by the statutory cap. It is important to note that in these cases, only 25% of the punitive damages, plus attorneys’ fees and costs, go to the plaintiff. The remainder of the award goes to the State of Georgia since the presumption is that the faulty product has injured the state’s population as a whole.
2) The cap also does not apply if the defendant was impaired because of their use of drugs, alcohol, or other substances at the time of the action that led to the plaintiff’s injury. While this clearly applies to drunk driving cases, the law is not strictly limited to these types of cases.
3) The last exception to the cap is that it does not apply if the defendant is proved to have “acted, or failed to act, with the specific intent to cause harm.” This is a high bar to meet. It means that the person or entity intentionally wanted to harm the plaintiff. If the plaintiff can only prove that the defendant knew there was a risk of hurting the plaintiff, that alone is generally not sufficient to qualify for uncapped punitive damages.
How Are Damages Determined?
The determination of both compensatory and punitive damages involves several factors:
- Evidence and Documentation: Medical records, employment records, expert testimony, and other forms of evidence are crucial in establishing the extent of damages.
- Severity and Impact of Injury: The more severe and long-lasting the injury, the higher the compensatory damages tend to be.
- Defendant’s Conduct: For punitive damages, the nature of the defendant’s conduct is critically examined.
- Jury and Judge: In a trial, the jury or judge assesses the evidence and determines the appropriate amount of damages, within the limits of the law in Georgia.
- Negotiation and Settlement: Many personal injury cases are settled out of court, where damages are negotiated between the parties that are involved in the case.
It is important to note that the award of damages in personal injury law can be complex, and specific cases may have unique considerations. An attorney experienced in personal injury law in Georgia can help you assess how the above principles apply to your particular case. Contact Gautreaux Law for an initial consultation regarding your personal injury case.