If you win your injury lawsuit in Georgia, the jury should award you damages based on your injuries and losses, as determined by the court. Certain damages are limited by statutory caps, and your compensation might be limited.
The purpose of caps or limits on damages is to prevent unnecessarily high or unfair damages awards. However, many in the legal profession believe that caps unjustly limit the recovery of injured plaintiffs. Fortunately, most damages in Georgia are not capped. Compensatory damages, including economic and non-economic damages, are not capped and may be as high as the court and jury deem appropriate. However, punitive damages tend to be capped at $250,000 unless your case meets certain criteria that allow the court to remove the cap. Your attorney can help you determine if your case is eligible for uncapped punitive damages and argue with the court to remove the limitation. With or without caps on your damages, there are ways you can argue your case to maximize your damages and compensation.
Schedule a review of your injury claims for free with our Georgia personal injury lawyers by calling Howe Law at (844) 876-4357.
What is the Point of Damage Caps on Injury Lawsuits in Georgia?
Proponents of caps and limits on damages often argue that caps protect defendants from unfair damages awards. For example, the jury might be compelled to award unreasonably high damages in cases where the defendant’s actions were shocking, outrageous, or offensive. While the law does allow courts to punish defendants through punitive damages awards, juries should not be permitted to make awards purely based on anger or emotions.
Not only that, but some believe that unlimited damages might allow juries to award high damages as a punishment to the defendant, even if the defendant’s actions do not make the case eligible for punitive damages. Even so, many others in the legal profession believe that caps on damages are simply unfair.
Many believe that caps on damages unfairly limit compensation for plaintiffs. If a plaintiff’s injuries are worth a large sum, they should be awarded that full sum. While damage caps might not affect all cases, like those with relatively minor injuries, they might harshly limit cases involving severe damages.
In a way, damage caps can be a bit arbitrary. Lawmakers ultimately decide the cap, and no consideration is given to individual plaintiffs when a cap is imposed. Fortunately, most forms of damages in Georgia are not bound by statutory caps. However, some damages are not unlimited, and you should talk to your attorney about how to maximize your potential compensation.
Limits and Caps on Compensatory Damages in Georgia Injury Lawsuits
Your overall compensation in an injury lawsuit is based on various categories of damages. Compensatory damages comprise your economic losses, like medical costs, and non-economic injuries, like pain and suffering. For most, this is where the damages calculations end. For others, punitive damages might be calculated if the case is eligible. While compensatory damages are usually uncapped, punitive damages are capped in most cases.
Your economic damages are financial losses, expenses, or costs you incurred as a direct result of your injuries. Economic damages, also known as special damages, are uncapped. This means these damages can be as high as reasonably necessary to compensate the plaintiff adequately.
For example, if our Atlanta personal injury lawyers help you add up all the money you lost or spent because of your injuries and arrive at a total of $50,000, the jury should award you $50,000. The same goes for cases where economic losses are very high. If your economic damages are in the millions, your compensation should reflect the same.
While economic damages are not bound by statutory caps, they are limited by your actual expenses. You may only claim economic damages for real losses that cost you money. Certain injuries might have been painful and inconvenient, but they might not have actually cost you money. In that case, they cannot be used to boot your economic damages.
The history of caps on non-economic damages in Georgia is somewhat complex. While non-economic damages, also called general damages, in most cases have always been uncapped, there was a cap in medical malpractice cases.
The Tort Reform Act of 2005 enacted broad laws regarding damages in civil tort cases, including caps on non-economic damages in medical malpractice cases. At the time, there was a cap of $350,000 on non-economic damages in claims for medical malpractice. The idea behind the cap was to reduce insurance costs for medical professionals, thereby reducing healthcare costs.
In 2010, the Georgia Supreme Court ruled that the cap on non-economic damages in medical malpractice cases was unconstitutional, as it afforded plaintiffs less protection than normal if the defendant were a doctor or medical institution. As such, there are no longer any caps on non-economic damages.
Pain and Suffering
Pain and suffering are some of the most prominent forms of non-economic damages in civil tort actions. While pain and suffering technically fall under the broader category of general damages, they are often scrutinized differently as they often make up a large portion of a plaintiff’s overall non-economic injuries.
Like all other non-economic damages, pain and suffering are not restricted by statutory caps. As such, these damages may be unlimited and very significant in cases with serious injuries. However, this does not mean a jury may award exorbitantly high damages for pain and suffering.
According to O.C.G.A. § 51-12-12(a), courts in Georgia generally do not interfere with jury verdicts. However, the court may intervene where juries award damages that are clearly inadequate or excessive to the point that they are inconsistent with the evidence.
In short, there are no caps on damages for pain and suffering, but the jury award for pain and suffering must be reasonable. If the jury’s verdict is inconsistent with the evidence, the court can adjust the award or order a new trial regarding only damages.
Punitive Damage Caps in Injury Lawsuits in Georgia
Unlike compensatory damages, punitive damages are often capped in Georgia injury lawsuits. Punitive damages are not meant to compensate plaintiffs for losses or injuries. Instead, they are intended to serve as a punishment for the defendant and a deterrent for future bad behavior.
According to O.C.G.A. § 51-12.5.1(g), punitive damages in many tort actions in Georgia are capped at $250,000. For some, this cap might be high enough to provide adequate punitive damages in proportion to the defendant’s behavior. However, in cases where the defendant’s actions were shocking, heinous, or extremely offensive, the cap might feel insufficient.
To make matters more complicated, plaintiffs do not even get to keep their full punitive damages award. Under the law, plaintiffs must pay 75% of their punitive damages award into the state’s treasury. Payments are made through the Office of the State Treasurer within 60 days of when punitive damages are paid. If you are awarded the maximum award, you may only keep $62,000.
Are There Exceptions to Caps on Georgia Injury Lawsuits?
If you find your potential compensation hindered by caps on your damages, our Georgia personal injury attorneys will review your claims to determine if there is a way to have the caps waived or removed. The cap on punitive damages does not apply in every case.
Punitive damages do not apply whatsoever in product liability cases. A product liability case involves claims by a plaintiff injured because of a damaged or defective consumer good. For example, car manufacturers often recall vehicles for things like faulty brakes to avoid potential product liability lawsuits. If your injuries occurred because you were hurt using a defective item, your case should not be bound by a cap on punitive damages.
Many other claims might be eligible for uncapped punitive damages under specific circumstances. First, you can have the cap waived if our Alpharetta personal injury lawyers can help you prove that the defendant had the specific intent to cause harm. Specific intent involves acts by the defendant where they intended to cause a certain result (i.e., your injuries).
This is sometimes difficult to prove, as even most criminal offenses involve general intent rather than specific. If the defendant intended to act but not necessarily to cause anyone harm, they likely acted with general intent.
Second, we can help you have the cap on punitive damages waived if the defendant caused your injuries while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. This is common in car accident lawsuits where the defendant was charged with a DUI.
Maximizing Your Damages in a Georgia Injury Lawsuit?
With or without caps imposed on your potential damages, an attorney can help you figure out how to maximize your compensation. As discussed in depth previously, damages are divided into three broad categories, economic, non-economic, and punitive. We must prove each category to the fullest extent possible to get you the most compensation possible.
Proving and maximizing economic damages is arguably the simplest of the three categories, but we must still be wary of mistakes. It is important to add up all costs and financial losses related to the accident. Some obvious losses include medical bills, property damage, and lost income because you could not return to work. However, many smaller costs or costs that are less obvious might slip through the cracks.
You should account for things like the cost of traveling for medical treatment. Many injured plaintiffs have to travel to see their doctors, and the cost of gas, flights, and hotels is sometimes overlooked in favor of larger damages. In addition, you might need to hire help while you recover. For example, if you cannot clean your home on your own because of your injuries, you might hire domestic help. Those expenses should be factored into your economic damages.
Since economic damages are not capped, all your expenses may be compensated, no matter how small.
Calculating and making the most of potential non-economic damages is a bit more complicated because these damages are often unrelated to actual amounts of money. In fact, we might not actually submit any of our own calculations at all. Usually, juries have the final say on how much a plaintiff’s economic damages are worth, and we do not necessarily need to provide an estimate of our own.
There is no single way to calculate non-economic damages, but two very common methods are used in Georgia. First, the multiplier method multiplies the total economic damages by a multiplier figure between 1 and 5. The more severe your damages, the greater the multiplier figure might be. Second, the per diem method assigns a dollar value to each day you lived with things like pain, suffering, humiliation, and other non-economic injuries.
Since non-economic damages are uncapped, we must convince a jury of the severity of your pain and suffering. Depending on which method is used, we must prove just how severe your non-economic injuries are.
Since punitive damages are often capped, the most we can hope for is the $250,000 limit imposed by law. As with non-economic damages, juries tend to decide if punitive damages are warranted and how much they are worth.
The best way to maximize these damages is to highlight the defendant’s heinous behavior. Did they want to hurt you? Were they also charged with a crime related to your injuries? Have they shown any remorse for their actions? These are all issues we must present to the jury for consideration.
We can also argue to the court that the cap on punitive damages in your case should be waived. If the cap is waived, your punitive damages might be much higher, and you can recover the full extent of them – at least what does not have to be paid into the state treasury – without having them reduced by the court.
Call Our Georgia Personal Injury Attorneys About Your Claims and Damages
Schedule an evaluation of your injury case for free with our Athens, GA personal attorneys by calling Howe Law at (844) 876-4357.