What Are Special Damages and Punitive Damages in Georgia?

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After an accident and resulting lawsuit, injured people often receive financial compensation for their losses. But in some cases, they also receive additional monies that aren’t about compensation at all.  This awarded money is called “damages.” While you’ve maybe heard of punitive damages, economic damages, and other forms of compensation, you may not understand exactly what they mean—or how likely you are to get such damages from your case.

Keep reading to understand the various types of damages you can win through a personal injury lawsuit in Georgia, and how an experienced personal injury lawyer can help you get the money you deserve.  

Two Major Damage Categories: Compensatory and Non-Compensatory

Damage awarding in a lawsuit can include both compensatory (to compensate the injured person) and non-compensatory (to punish the at-fault party) damages. We’ll explain where special damages and punitive damages fit, but first let’s clarify these two major categories.   

What Are Compensatory Damages?

When an injured person sues for damages, their primary concern is usually covering the current and future costs of the accident, such as:

  • Medical bills
  • Lost income
  • Pain and suffering
  • Ongoing treatment
  • Legal costs

These costs help an injured person rebuild their life and regain what an accident took, whether it’s physical health, money to pay for basic needs, or mental wellbeing. The money awarded for that is compensatory.

What Are Non-Compensatory Damages?

In some cases, the at-fault party (the “defendant”) acted so recklessly, or benefitted so unjustly, that the court decides they deserve a penalty beyond compensatory damages. Non-compensatory damages may be awarded in civil cases involving:

  • Drunk driving
  • Hit-and-run auto accidents
  • Financial gain from someone else’s loss
  • Fist fighting
  • Willful misconduct
  • Breach of a contract
  • Drag racing
  • Wrongful death

In such cases, the defendant might not have intended to cause harm but still took dangerous/unethical actions with no concern for the potential consequences (called “conscious indifference”). A drunk driver is an example of this.

Non-compensatory damages are very different from compensatory damages, and your best bet is to work with an attorney who’s experienced with securing them.

General and Special Damages Are Compensatory

Compensatory damages, which help injured people rebuild their lives, can be divided into two categories of their own:

  • Special damages: Money awarded based on medical costs, lost income, ongoing treatment, and other specific dollar amounts. These might also be called economic damages.
  • General damages: Money awarded based on how the incident impacted quality of life through physical pain, mental anguish, loss of companionship, and other experiences. These might also be called non-economic damages.

Special Damages: Beyond Medical Costs and Lost Income

When you’ve been injured, medical expenses may be the largest and most immediate cost you incur. Add in a few weeks or months of missed or reduced work and compensation becomes vital.

However, special damages can include much more than medical expenses and lost income; your lawyer will be a great help in determining what your lawsuit should demand. Whether you just need a temporary prescription or permanent in-home care, unexpected costs like the following are always a possibility:

  • Ongoing treatment: Medications, therapy (mental and physical), and future procedures
  • Adjustments in the home: Wheelchair ramps, safety handles, special furniture, accessible appliances, and widened doorways and walkways
  • Insurance increases: Auto and health insurance rates may be subject to increases after a car accident, even if it’s not your fault.

Special and general damages are common in Georgia personal injury lawsuits because such cases typically hinge on an injured person needing compensation. Punitive damages, on the other hand, are far less common.

Punitive Damages Are Non-Compensatory

Punitive damages are just one kind of non-compensatory financial penalty for at-fault parties. We won’t list the others here, as most aren’t relevant to personal injury cases.

Punitive damages are meant to punish a person who acted recklessly or even intentionally caused harm (an “active tortfeasor”). They’re also used to discourage the defendant’s actions in the future. Although rarely awarded, punitive damages are a powerful tool to help injured people and send a clear message about reckless behavior.  

For example, in a case of elder abuse by a nursing home staff member, punitive damages may be awarded if the abuse went beyond negligence and involved specific intent. The staff member deserves a punishment for mistreating the resident, and the court wants to let everyone know that such actions carry maximum consequences.

Is There a Cap on Punitive Damages in Georgia Law?

Not every state puts a cap on the amount of punitive damages, but Georgia does. In general, punitive damages are capped at $250,000, but a couple of exceptions exist:

  • The defendant specifically intended to harm the injured person.
  • The defendant was under the influence of alcohol or drugs (not including legally prescribed drugs or certain toxic vapors).
  • Some product liability cases

Note that punitive damages might also be called vindictive damages, exemplary damages, deterrent damages, or additional damages. An insurance company may or may not pay punitive damages—another good reason to work with an attorney.    

Do I Need an Attorney to Get an Award of Punitive Damages?

Technically, you don’t need a lawyer to get any kind of damages. However, having a lawyer is helpful at every stage of your lawsuit, and it greatly increases your chances of getting fair damages—especially rarely awarded punitive damages.

An attorney is far more experienced than most when it comes to negotiating punitive damages claims. Further, they have access to various experts as they build your case. From top doctors to accident reconstructionists, these experts can present convincing evidence that makes punitive damages far more likely.  

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References

Georgia Code. § 51-12-5.1. (2010)

[View source.]

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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