Punitive damages are available when the defendant was acting with malice, fraud or with
indifference to the consequences of their actions. Punitive damages are often available in
situations where an injury was sustained due to criminal actions, such as an assault or drunk
driving. Proving the defendant’s actions meet the punitive damages threshold requires the
plaintiff’s legal team to exceed the normal standard of proof required in most types of civil
You can’t negotiate punitive damages with the negligent party’s insurance company. They must be
pursued in a personal injury lawsuit. Punitive damages are considered separate from compensatory
damages that are sought to compensate the injured party for medical costs, lost wages and other
The purpose of punitive damages is twofold: punishment and deterrence. The reason most states,
including Georgia, allow plaintiffs to seek punitive damages is to discourage people from acting
with reckless or criminal disregard for the safety of others. When people maliciously or willfully
injure other people, there should be consequences beyond basic compensation for economic damages.
You can learn more about Georgia’s punitive damages rules from OCGA § 51-12-5.1.
Calculating Punitive Damages in Georgia
Punitive damages are often based on a multiplier. This multiplier rarely exceeds four times the
value of compensatory damages. The court will consider factors like:
• The chance the defendant will repeat the infraction in the future (often influenced by
• Other criminal punishments imposed on the defendant to discourage future actions that may cause
• The defendant’s assets and their ability to pay the damages
Are There Limits on Punitive Damages?
Yes, the cap on punitive damages is $250,000 except in specific circumstances where the limits are
waived. These include product liability cases, specific intent to harm and
Plaintiffs May Not Get to Keep All of the Punitive Damages in Product Liability Cases
Product liability plaintiffs are only entitled to a relatively small percentage of punitive damages
over the normal $250,000 limit. The majority – 75 percent, minus attorney’s fees and
litigation costs – goes to the state of Georgia.
Large businesses have deep pockets. What would be considered normal punitive damages for an
individual defendant may be a rounding error for a large corporation that
manufacturers, markets or sells products.
In order for punitive damages to have the intended effect on a business, the judge may need to
award far more than $250,000. However, the purpose of punitive damages isn’t to
make the plaintiff rich, which is why such a significant percentage of damages over the normal cap
would go to the Georgia treasury.
Can You Collect Punitive Damages from Bars, Clubs or Restaurants Under Dram Shop Laws?
Dram shop laws allow people injured in Georgia by drunk drivers to sue the establishments that
served the drunk driver. The restaurant or bar would only be liable if they served
someone who was underage or someone who was obviously drunk and about to drive. For example, the
establishment might not be liable if they served someone who they believed was getting a rideshare
home instead of driving.
In those cases, only the drunk driver can have punitive damages imposed on them. The establishment
may be forced to pay compensatory damages, but they won’t be made to
pay punitive damages.
In What Types of Cases Are Punitive Damages Usually Available?
Product liability cases can result in the biggest punitive damages awards. These types of damages
are common in cases against drug companies or medical device manufacturers
who misled users and patients about risks or expectations of results.
There are many crime-related injuries that may justify awarding punitive damages to the victims in
a civil case. These types of crimes can include:
• All types of violent assaults, including assault with a deadly weapon or sexual assault
• Nursing home abuse cases
• Sex crimes against minors
• Violent felonies
• Drunk or high driving accidents
Are You Entitled to Punitive Damages After Your Injury?
Winning punitive damages isn’t always simple or easy. Because you can’t negotiate punitive damages
with the insurance company, these cases are required to go to trial. If your
injury case does justify punitive damages, it’s important to work with an experienced trial
Johnny Phillips has extensive experience representing Atlanta, Lilburn and Newnan residents in the
courtroom. You can schedule a free case evaluation by calling 833-JOHNNY3