Exemplary damages, commonly referred to as punitive damages, are only awarded to a plaintiff if the court and the jury conclude that the defendant must be punished, or if the jury finds that the additional damages are needed to deter the defendant from repeating the wrongdoing. Exemplary damages must be understood in contrast to compensatory damages. Compensatory damages are designed to repay plaintiffs for the losses they suffered. These damages can cover a number of categories, including medical bills, emotional suffering and anticipated lost wages due to a long-term injury. Exemplary damages go beyond the amount needed to compensate plaintiffs for their injuries, and impose additional costs on defendants in order to deter similar conduct in the future.
In many states, punitive damages are the source of many of the multi-million dollar verdicts that attract the attention of the news media. In Georgia, however, the legislature has passed laws to limit the circumstances under which exemplary damages may be awarded. Georgia law also limits the amount of exemplary damages that may be awarded in certain types of cases.
In general, exemplary damages are only available when the defendant behaved either recklessly or maliciously. Under Georgia law, in contrast to many other states, exemplary damages are not to be awarded solely to punish a defendant; instead, exemplary damages are designed to deter the defendant, and other parties, from violating the law in the future. As a result, the Georgia legislature has taken steps to ensure that plaintiffs who have already been fully compensated for their injuries do not receive an undeserved windfall. As a result, in cases where the defendant did not actually intend to cause harm, exemplary damage awards generally may not exceed $250,000. There are a number of exceptions to this rule, however, including suits involving drunk drivers. In such suits, there is no limit on the amount of exemplary damages. Georgia also provides an exception to the $250,000 cap in product liability cases, but requires that a percentage of the award be paid into the state treasury rather than signed over to the plaintiff. In addition, only the first plaintiff may request compensatory damages – Georgia’s legislature has determined that once exemplary damages have been issued to one plaintiff, further awards are unnecessary because the goal of an exemplary damage award has already been met.
Georgia also limits the types of cases in which exemplary damages may be awarded. Typically, exemplary damages will not be permitted in wrongful death or contract cases, and are usually reserved for tort suits against defendants who acted either wantonly or maliciously.
If you or a loved one has suffered an injury, and you believe exemplary damages may be appropriate, contact Eric J. Hertz, P.C., at www.hertz-law.com, at once. While exemplary damages may provide vital assistance as you struggle to cope with a devastating loss, they are not easy to obtain. You need an attorney who knows Georgia law, and knows how to ask for, and convince a court to grant, the exemplary damages you deserve.
“DISCLAIMER: The above article is provided for information purposes only and is not intended to be, nor should be considered legal advice. Legal advice can only be given by a licensed attorney in your jurisdiction following an individualized consultation. If you are seeking legal advice, please contact an attorney in your area.”