If you suffer an injury due to another person’s negligence, you may have a legal right to seek financial recompense for your harm by submitting a personal injury claim. However, filing this claim does not automatically result in compensation. The responsibility then falls to the insurance company of the defendant to evaluate your claim and decide on the appropriate compensation.
There are generally two categories of damages you can be awarded as the injured victim: compensatory damages, which aim to reimburse you for your direct, measurable expenses, and punitive damages, which are intended to punish the defendant and set an example for the society.
What are Compensatory Damages?
When your injury is directly linked to someone else’s actions (negligence, recklessness, or intentional conduct), you can seek compensatory damages from the responsible party (the defendant). The primary goal of these damages is to “compensate” you for what you lost due to your injury. There are two types of compensatory damages:
Special Damages (Economic Damages)
These are quantifiable financial costs and losses, such as:
- Costs for medical treatment (emergency room visits, hospital stays, surgeries, medications, and any future medical expenses if you have ongoing health issues)
- Lost wages and loss of earning capacity
- Property damage (costs to repair or replace your personal property)
- Home modification costs (if applicable)
- Cost of medical devices (e.g., wheelchairs, prosthetics)
- Nursing home care expenses
- Cost of hiring in-home care services
- Travel expenses for treatment
- Childcare costs incurred due to injury
- Vocational rehabilitation costs
- Loss of employment benefits (e.g., retirement contributions, health insurance)
- Increased living expenses due to disability
- Funeral expenses (in wrongful death cases)
General Damages (Non-economic Damages)
These address the non-financial, more subjective consequences of your injury:
- Physical pain and suffering caused by the injuries.
- Psychological and emotional distress (anxiety, depression, PTSD)
- Loss of enjoyment of life
- Shortened lifespan
- Loss of consortium (claims made by your spouse for loss of companionship and intimacy)
What are Punitive Damages?
Punitive damages, also known as exemplary damages, are not designed to reimburse the plaintiff – even though it is money that the plaintiff and their family can use however they see fit. The jury or court will only pay punitive damages either to penalize the defendant for particularly heinous behavior or to act as a deterrent, i.e., to send a message to the defendant and the broader community that such conduct is intolerable and should not be repeated.
By definition, these damages are not awarded in all personal injury cases. They are reserved for situations where the defendant’s actions were determined to be in any of the following categories:
- Exceptionally reckless or careless: Beyond ordinary negligence, showing a disregard for the safety and well-being of others.
- Intentionally harmful: Cases where the defendant’s actions were deliberate and intended to cause harm.
- Offensive and egregious: Conduct that is morally or legally reprehensible to an extreme degree.
Each state has laws regarding when and how to award punitive damages. Georgia has a general cap on punitive damages set at $250,000. There are exceptions to this; if the at-fault party is found to have acted with the sole intent to cause harm, this cap may not apply.
To be eligible for punitive damages in Georgia, the plaintiff’s personal injury lawyers must prove by clear and convincing evidence that the defendant was not just grossly negligent, but that they acted with a level of carelessness that suggests they knew their actions could cause harm and did not care. This is a higher level of fault than ordinary negligence and is why punitive damages are not awarded in every personal injury case.
These are subject to several other rules under Georgia law as well, some of which are:
- 75% of punitive damages, after legal costs, are paid to the state.
- Defendants cannot be punished more than once with punitive damages for the same conduct.
- Punitive damages are not awarded for breach of contract unless it involves tortious behavior.
Difference Between Compensatory and Punitive Damages
Three key differences between compensatory and punitive damages lie in their purpose, how often they are awarded, and the methods used to calculate them.
Compensatory damages awarded in personal injury cases, such as car or truck accident claims, are meant to make the plaintiff “whole” again. The entire focus is on the person who was injured or suffered a loss due to the defendant’s actions. These are meant to help them financially recover from the economic and non-economic losses they have suffered because of their injuries.
Since these are based on tangible evidence (like medical bills and receipts), proving compensatory damages is relatively simple. The civil court uses this evidence as well as past personal injury claims to decide a fair value.
Punitive damages, on the other hand, focus on the perpetrator – to punish them and to discourage them (and the society at large) from engaging in similar behavior in the future. These are not related to the plaintiff’s actual damages. Instead, these are given in addition to compensatory damages, so they act more as a financial penalty.
This is why punitive damages are less common and strictly depend on the court’s judgment. A judge needs strong evidence of intentional misconduct or outrageous negligence by the responsible party. To calculate the amount, they will look at how serious their actions were. The maximum amount for punitive damages varies from state to state.
Choose a Dedicated Personal Injury Attorney in Georgia
If you or someone in your family has suffered injuries due to another’s negligence, you deserve the strongest legal representation to pursue your rightful damages. In most cases in Georgia, you only have two years to file a personal injury lawsuit and demand compensation from the date of the accident.
At The Law Offices of Jorge Luis Flores, our personal injury lawyers have extensive experience with a variety of cases, from car accident and Workers’ Compensation to nursing home abuse, slip and fall (premises liability), and medical malpractice cases. We can accurately determine the worth of your claim, and should you feel that you are owed punitive damages in addition to compensatory damages, we can evaluate and build a compelling case based on evidence.
Our staff is fluent in both English and Spanish, and our offices are conveniently located in Metro Atlanta and Saint Simons. To schedule a free consultation call us at (404) 566-8702 today.