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Establishing liability, seeking damages after truck accident, P.3

Last time, we spoke briefly about two general types of damages available in motor vehicle accident cases. The exact types and amounts of damages will vary, of course, but generally punitive damages will be available to a plaintiff who can establish the general elements of negligence. As we noted, punitive damages will be available in some cases.

Punitive damages, it is important to stress, must be requested. The court will not order such damages unless the plaintiff specifically asks for them. To establish entitlement to punitive damages, a plaintiff must prove by clear and convincing evidence that the defendant acted with “willful misconduct, malice, fraud, wantonness, oppression, or…conscious indifference,” as state law provides. 

Clear and convincing evidence refers to the standard of proof in establishing punitive damages entitlement. This standard is higher than the ordinary civil standard of preponderance of the evidence—meaning it is more likely than not that what the plaintiff asserts is true—but less than the criminal standard of beyond a reasonable doubt.

Because punitive damages are intended to punish and deter the type of behavior the defendant engaged in, the court has to determine in each case the amount of damages sufficient to accomplish these tasks in light of the circumstances. By law, a good portion of punitive damages awards actually just goes to the state, but the defendant does see some of it, so it is certainly worth fighting for when entitlement can be established. Those who feel they may be entitled to such damages should work with an experienced attorney to ensure their financial interests are well represented in court.

Source: Georgia Code, § 51-12-5.1—Punitive damages

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