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Understanding Punitive Claims 

The Law Office of George O. Haskell, IV  June 11, 2024

In personal injury cases, most people are familiar with compensatory damages. These damages are meant to cover your medical expenses, lost wages, and other financial losses. However, there is another type of damage you may be entitled to: punitive damages.  

Let's explore how punitive claims differ from compensatory damages and when they might apply to your case. 

What Are Punitive Claims?

Punitive claims, also known as punitive damages, are designed to punish the wrongdoer rather than simply compensate the victim.  

Unlike compensatory damages, which aim to make the victim whole, punitive damages seek to deter the defendant and others from engaging in similar conduct in the future. 

Punitive damages are typically awarded in cases where the defendant's actions are found to be particularly egregious, malicious, or recklessly indifferent to the rights and safety of others.  

For instance, punitive damages may come into play in situations involving drunk driving, severe cases of medical malpractice, or intentional harm. The goal is to send a clear message that such behavior is unacceptable and will not be tolerated. 

Punitive damages are not awarded in every personal injury case. They are generally awarded only in cases where the conduct of the defendant is deemed exceptionally harmful.  

The threshold for awarding punitive damages is often higher than that for compensatory damages, requiring clear and convincing evidence of the defendant’s reprehensible conduct. 

Differences Between Compensatory and Punitive Damages


Compensatory Damages: Aim to compensate the victim for financial losses and suffering. 

Punitive Damages: Aim to punish the wrongdoer and deter future misconduct. 


Compensatory Damages: Based on actual losses, such as medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering. 

Punitive Damages: Based on the severity of the wrongdoer's conduct and their financial status, not the victim's losses. 

Awarded In: 

Compensatory Damages: Most personal injury cases involve these. 

Punitive Damages: Only in cases where the defendant's behavior was particularly egregious or reckless. 

When Are Punitive Damages Awarded?

Punitive damages are not awarded in every personal injury case. Specific criteria must be met for a court to consider awarding them. Here are some situations where punitive damages might be applicable: 

Gross Negligence: 

The defendant's actions were more than just careless; they were extremely reckless. 

Malicious Intent: 

The defendant intended to cause harm. 


The defendant engaged in deceitful practices that led to the injury. 

Willful Misconduct: 

The defendant knowingly engaged in behavior that was likely to cause harm. 

Drunk Driving: 

If the defendant was under the influence of alcohol or drugs at the time of a car accident they caused and this impairment significantly contributed to the plaintiff's injuries. 

Severe Cases of Discrimination: 

Instances where the defendant's actions were not only discriminatory but also intentional and caused significant harm to the plaintiff. 

Product Liability: 

Cases where a company knowingly sold a defective product that caused harm, despite being aware of the dangers it posed to consumers. 

Repeat Offenders: 

Situations where the defendant has a history of similar harmful behavior, indicating a pattern of recklessness or disregard for safety. 

Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress:

When the defendant's actions were specifically aimed at causing severe emotional trauma to the victim. 

Environmental Harm: 

Cases where a company or individual intentionally caused significant damage to the environment, affecting public health and safety. 

Punitive Claims in Georgia

In Georgia, the laws surrounding punitive damages are stringent. The state has specific guidelines to ensure that punitive damages are only awarded in appropriate cases. Here are some key points: 

Clear and Convincing Evidence: 

To award punitive damages in Georgia, the plaintiff must provide clear and convincing evidence that the defendant's actions were willful, malicious, fraudulent, or showed a wanton disregard for others' safety. 

Caps on Damages: 

Georgia caps punitive damages at $250,000 in many cases. However, there are exceptions for cases involving specific conduct, such as product liability or intentional harm. 

Bifurcated Trials: 

Georgia law requires a bifurcated trial process for punitive damages. This means the trial is split into two phases. In the first phase, the jury determines liability and compensatory damages. If the jury finds in favor of the plaintiff, the second phase addresses punitive damages. 

Allocation of Punitive Damages: 

In Georgia, 75% of punitive damages awarded in product liability cases go to the state treasury, while the plaintiff receives 25%. 

Benefits and Criticisms of Punitive Damages


  • Deterrence: Punitive damages serve as a strong deterrent against reckless behavior. 

  • Justice: They provide a sense of justice to victims, knowing the wrongdoer is being punished. 

  • Public Awareness: High-profile punitive damage awards can raise awareness about specific dangers or unethical practices. 


  • Unpredictability: The amount of punitive damages can be unpredictable and vary widely between cases. 

  • Economic Impact: Large punitive damage awards can have significant financial impacts on businesses and individuals. 

  • Fairness: Some argue that punitive damages can be unfair, as they may punish defendants excessively. 

Consult a Personal Injury Attorney in Macon-Bibb County, Georgia

If you find yourself involved in a personal injury case and wondering whether you might be entitled to punitive damages, call the Law Office of George O. Haskell, IV

Attorney George Haskell will meet with you personally to review the circumstances of your case. Our aim is to ensure that you are fully informed when making decisions about your personal injury case. We have a hands-on approach to every case, ensuring you receive the attention and help you deserve.