Revenge Is Best Served… Usually Never: A Brief Look at Punitive Damages
When and When Not to Punish a Company: A Look at “Punitive Damages”
When you or a family member suffers a personal injury related to an accident or mishap caused by another company, you may have the instinct to punish or get revenge. The feeling is natural. You’re angry about what happened because it wasn’t your fault, and you want to make sure the other person pays. You may even hear about cases in the news in which tens of millions of dollars are awarded to victims who have been wronged.
That kind of money awarded to victims in such extreme cases is called “punitive damages.” “Punitive damages” punish companies in order to make an example out of them. And while you may hear about a lot of these kinds of cases on TV or on the Internet, they don’t happen that often.
In Georgia, it’s really hard to sue a company for punitive damages. The law requires “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” (O.C.G.A. 51-12-5.1).
What does that mean for you? When considering your personal injury case, ask yourself the following questions.
How much is the company at fault?
The company has to show extreme fault in a situation. For example:
- No punitive damages: A truck veers into your lane and hits your car, causing an accident. Otherwise, the truck driver had a clean driving record and followed all laws.
- Punitive damages: The truck driver received dozens of traffic violations over the past year, and the company did not fire the person.
How unfairly was the victim treated by a company?
Companies need to treat you fairly, and so they can be punished for treating you extremely unfairly. For example:
- No punitive damages: An insurance company is difficult to work with during a wrongful death case and drags out the time it takes to pay you your money.
- Punitive damages: An insurance company completely ignores the terms of a contract, knowingly misleads you, and does not pay you what you are legally owed during a wrongful death case.
How indifferently did the company treat the victim?
The “want of care” and “conscious indifference” mentioned in the Georgia law must be extreme. For example:
- No punitive damages: A person dies in a nursing home after a doctor makes the wrong decision about the person’s care with the best of intentions.
- Punitive damages: A person dies in a nursing home after the staff fails to give the person adequate water, food, medical care, and checkups over a four day period.
As you can see, the company must have messed up in a big, big way to sue for punitive damages. In most cases, companies may be at fault for a wrongful death or injury, but it usually doesn’t reach the level of unfairness needed for punitive damages.
Wondering if your case should involve punitive damages? Reach out to us today for a free consultation about your situation.