In Florida this past November, a circuit judge allowed a lawsuit against Elon Musk’s Tesla to move forward, denying Tesla’s motion to dismiss.

The lawsuit, claiming the wrongful death of the plaintiff’s husband, alleges that Tesla overstate the capabilities of its autopilot system, leading to a deadly accident. In this decision, the Judge threw out Tesla’s motion to dismiss, and allowed the plaintiff to seek punitive damages that could be worth millions of dollars.

Punitive damages are clearly significant in this case, and they can make a huge difference to a personal injury claim in Georgia as well. Given the importance of this topic, let’s break down punitive damages and help you understand how they may affect your case. 

Punitive damages are monetary awards intended to punish a defendant for bad behavior, rather than to compensate the plaintiff for their losses. Since punitive damages can be a powerful tool in deterring egregious misconduct, Georgia has ensured that they can be taken into account in court proceedings. The Georgia Code describes punitive damages as being synonymous with any “additional damages awarded because of aggravating circumstances in order to penalize, punish, or deter a defendant,” and states that they are only rewarded when the defendant’s actions show “…malice, fraud, wantonness, oppression…”  (§ 51-12-5.1). 

This is different from compensatory damages. Compensatory damages are the typical damages awarded in suits; they are designed to make the plaintiff whole from the injury caused by the defendant, and are not viewed as punishment to the defendant, but as recompense to the plaintiff. Punitive damages, however, are specifically designed to punish the defendant. Georgia doesn’t view punitive damages as a repayment or reward to the plaintiff at all. 

In Georgia, the plaintiff must specifically request punitive damages in his/her initial complaint. Punitive damages are typically capped at $250,000; there are three exceptions, however, where punitive damages can be unlimited:

Additionally, the Georgia Code requires clear and convincing evidence to prove that the defendant acted. Clear and convincing evidence is a burden of proof that is higher than the preponderance of the evidence standard, which will most likely be the standard the rest of the case is based off of. This means that it will be harder for a plaintiff to prove conduct that justifies punitive damages. Because it is up to the judge to make the determination regarding punitive damages, it can be a difficult standard to pass. 

Despite these complications, your case may warrant punitive damages against the defendant. Not pursuing these damages can mean missing out on what you deserve. It’s important to find an experienced personal injury lawyer who can help you recognize whether pursuing punitive damages is appropriate, make the proper requests on your behalf, and lay out the case for why they should be awarded. Our Atlanta attorneys have plenty of experience with these cases and know what to look for when it comes to punitive damages. If you’ve been injured and think you may be entitled to receive punitive or compensatory damages, our attorneys can help you recover.

Call us today for a free consultation at (404) 888-0500.