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Punitive damages are “exemplary” damages, whose purpose is to penalize, punish, or deter in aggravating circumstances.
They are not allowed to compensate the plaintiff. Instead, they must be justified by the aggravating conduct of the defendant.
1) What are punitive damages?
Punitive damages are not available in every case.
Infact, they are rarely available.
That’s because punitive damages have a high burden of proof than other forms of damages, and they require qualifying reprehensible conduct of the defendant.
2) Are punitive damages available in every case?
Punitive damages are only available in Georgia when it is proven the defendant demonstrated sufficiently reprehensible conduct in causing an injury.
Sufficiently reprehensible conduct is that which is willful misconduct, or done with malice, fraud, wantonness, oppression, or conscious indifference to the consequences.
3) When are punitive damages available?
In Georgia, the burden of proof for punitive damages is by clear and convincing evidence.
This is a higher burden of proof than that required for proving negligence – i.e. preponderance of the evidence. But, it is lower than the burden of proof required in criminal proceedings – i.e. beyond a reasonable doubt.
4) What is the burden of proof for punitive damages?
In Georgia, punitive damages are generally capped at $250,000.
That means that no matter what a jury awards in punitive damages, the most the defendant will be required to pay is $250,000.
5) Are there caps on punitive damages in Georgia?
The exception to the punitive damages cap in Georgia is when the at-fault party acts either with (1) the specific intent to cause harm, or (2) while under the influence of certain substances, such as alcohol and drugs.
If any of these two exceptions apply, there are no caps on punitive damages in Georgia.
The punitive damages cap also does not apply for product liability cases.
6) What are the exceptions to the punitive damages cap in Georgia?
There are no caps to punitive damages for product liability cases in Georgia.
Instead, 75% of any punitive damages verdict goes to the State of Georgia’s treasury, and the injured plaintiff is allowed to collect on the remaining 25%.
7) How are punitive damages treated in product liability cases?
If a jury awards more than $250,000 in punitive damages at trial, the trial judge will reduce the award to the statutory cap.
It does not matter if the jury believes punitive damages are worth more than the statutory cap. There is no way around the statutory cap.
8) What happens if the punitive damage verdict exceeds the cap?
Excessive punitive damages verdicts can be overturned in Georgia if they are grossly excessive and disproportionate to the underlying conduct.
So, even though the at-fault party’s conduct qualifies as an exception to the punitive damages cap, this doesn’t mean that any jury verdict will be immune from being overturned.
9) Can an excessive punitive damages verdict be overturned?
10) Are punitive damages available in wrongful death claims?
11) Are punitive damages available against a government entity?
No, punitive damages are not available to punish a stubbornly litigious Defendant.
Infact, a defendant’s conduct during litigation is irrelevant to a claim for punitive damages.
Under separate statutes, a stubbornly litigious defendant can be held accountable if the circumstances justify – just not under the punitive damages statute in Georgia.
12) Are punitive damages available if the Defendant was stubbornly litigious?
Wheale Law Firm is not qualified to give tax advice and we strongly encourage you to consult with an accountant or tax attorney on your specific case.
Generally, we expect punitive damages to be taxable because they are not compensatory in nature.