When Can Punitive Damages Be Awarded in Georgia?

Most people know that victims of car accidents in Atlanta are entitled to money for their medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering. What you may not know, however, that in some circumstances they may also be entitled to “punitive damages,” which is extra money meant to punish a driver who acted very recklessly.

When it comes to car wreck cases, punitive damages are the exception rather than the rule.  However, the facts in certain cases can support a claim for punitive damages, and an Atlanta car accident attorney should always thoroughly investigate the circumstances surrounding an accident to determine if such a claim is appropriate.  For example, if a car wreck is caused by a driver who was racing, excessively speeding, or driving drunk, the victim of the wreck may be entitled to extra punitive damages.

The Case for Punitive Damages for Racing

We recently represented a client who was injured in a car wreck and successfully pursued a claim for punitive damages.  In that case, a teenager admitted to the police that he was traveling “87 to 90 miles per hour” through a subdivision prior to the collision.  Moreover, an eyewitness who witnessed the accident and called 911 reported she saw him racing another vehicle down the parkway before smashing into the back of our client’s vehicle.  Although he tried to stop at the last second, the teenage driver was unable to avoid the collision due to his excessively high rate of speed.  The police officer investigating the accident noted skid marks measuring 117 feet.

Along with compensation for her injuries, our client sought recovery of punitive damages from the teenager, due to the egregious nature of the conduct which led to the accident.  The teenager’s attorneys asked the judge to throw out our claim for punitive damages before we even got to trial, but the judge ruled that we were entitled to present our claim to the jury.

Georgia’s Punitive Damages Law

In Georgia, punitive damages are recoverable when the at-fault party’s actions demonstrate “willful misconduct” or “conscious indifference to the consequences.”  Under this standard, punitive damages are typically not awarded in cases involving car wrecks because most of the time the wreck occurred due to driver negligence, rather than willful misconduct.  However, punitive damages are authorized when the accident results from intentionally dangerous driving, such as excessive speeding, racing, or driving drunk.

In our case, there was evidence that:

  • The teenager was traveling 40+ mph over the speed limit in a residential subdivision at night;
  • He was racing another vehicle prior to the collision; and
  • He had an extensive history of speeding.

Based on this evidence, the judge ruled that we were entitled to present our case for punitive damages to the jury.

In our case, we found eyewitnesses who testified to the excessive speeding and racing, and we also uncovered that the teenager’s car was equipped with a GPS monitor which issued speed warnings every time the vehicle reached 60 miles per hour or greater.  By comparing the dates, times and locations of the recorded warnings, we proved the number of times the teenager had been speeding during the year leading up the accident.  This evidence proved that the teenager had a history of speeding.

The defense attorneys in the case were obviously worried about this evidence, and they asked the judge to toss it out before we got to trial.  We won, however, and the judge ruled that the evidence supported our claim for punitive damages.  Soon after this ruling, the defense caved and paid over $350,000.00 to settle our client’s case!

Speak to an Atlanta Car Accident Attorney Today

If you are the victim of a wreck caused by a driver who was drinking, racing, or excessively speeding, contact the Atlanta car accident lawyers at Andersen, Tate & Carr for representation. We can help pursue your claim and investigate whether you are entitled to additional money based on punitive damages.