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Can You Get Punitive Damages After a Truck Accident?

If you or somebody you care about has been injured in an accident caused by the careless or negligent actions of a truck driver or trucking company, you may be entitled to various types of compensation for your losses. In most scenarios, crash victims will be able to recover compensation for medical bills, lost wages, property damage expenses, and even pain and suffering damages. These are often referred to as special damages and general damages. However, there are some cases in which it may be acceptable to award crash victims punitive damages.

Punitive damages are not awarded in every truck accident claim, and they are reserved for very specific situations. Here, we want to define punitive damages and discuss the scenarios under which they may be awarded in a Georgia truck accident claim.

What are Punitive Damages?

Punitive damages are a type of compensation that is awarded on top of special damages and general damages in a personal injury case. As the name suggests, punitive damages are designed to act as a punishment to the individual responsible for causing the injury and to act as a deterrent to others to keep them from committing similar acts.

Punitive damages are typically reserved for situations where the actions of the defendant are found to have been grossly negligent, malicious, or intentional.

Does Georgia Award Punitive Damages in an Injury Case?

Every state is allowed to set requirements for how punitive damages are awarded. Georgia does make use of punitive damages in some situations (O.C.G.A. 51-12-5.1).

When we turn directly to the language written into Georgia’s law, we can see that “Punitive damages may be awarded only in such tort actions in which it is proven by clear and convincing evidence that the defendant’s actions showed willful misconduct, malice, fraud, wantonness, oppression, or that entire want of care which would raise the presumption of conscious indifference to consequences.”

Examining this law further, we will see that punitive damages are not to be awarded as compensation to the plaintiff, but specifically to punish, penalize, or deter the defendant. Punitive damages must be specifically asked for in a complaint.

The law in Georgia does place limitations on how much can be awarded in some cases concerning punitive damages. In general, there is a $250,000 cap on punitive damages in place. However, there are exceptions to this in the following circumstances:

  • For cases involving defective products (which can occur if a commercial truck or truck part is defective)
  • Instances where the defendant acted with specific intent to cause harm to the plaintiff (possible road rage truck crashes)
  • Cases where the defendant was under the influence of alcohol or drugs, but the drugs were not legally prescribed (the blood alcohol content level allowed for truck drivers is .04%)
  • Cases where a defendant intentionally ingested, injected, smoked, or consumed glue, aerosol, or another toxic vapor to the extent where their judgment was substantially impaired

Individuals who recover punitive damages as a result of a defective product must give 75% of the award to the state, less any proportionate part of the litigation costs and attorney’s fees.

How are Punitive Damages Calculated?

There is no set way that punitive damages are calculated in these cases. Aside from the limitations mentioned above, a personal injury jury will typically look at other similar cases where punitive damages were awarded to help guide them. Typically, the more egregious the actions of the defendant, the higher the punitive damage compensation award will be.