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2023 Personal Injury

Georgia Supreme Court Upholds Punitive Damages Cap

The Supreme Court of Georgia has upheld the state’s monetary cap on the award of punitive damages, finding that the statute does not violate the Georgia constitution. The case, Taylor v. The Devereaux Foundation, Inc., et al., involved the sexual assault of a 15-year-old girl living in a behavioral health facility. Punitive damages are a hot-button topic in personal injury law, and many states place caps on the amount of punitive damages that juries may award. While punitive damages are capped in Georgia, they are not banned; if you believe that your case may entitle you to a punitive damages award, you should consider speaking to a Tifton personal injury lawyer

What Are Punitive Damages?  

There are several types of damages that plaintiffs may seek in personal injury cases. The most common among them are compensatory damages. These are damages that are designed to compensate the victim for the harm they suffered. They can include:

  • Medical bills
  • Property damage 
  • Lost earnings 
  • Lost earning capacity 
  • Pain and suffering
  • Disfigurement
  • Loss of consortium 
  • Loss of enjoyment of life

Punitive damages, by contrast, are designed to punish defendants rather than compensate plaintiffs. They are awarded in cases where the defendant’s conduct was particularly reprehensible, and courts frequently use them as a method of deterring such conduct in future cases. In Georgia, punitive damages may be awarded in cases where the plaintiff can show by clear and convincing evidence that the defendant’s conduct shows “willful misconduct, malice, fraud, wantonness, oppression, or that entire want of care which would raise the presumption of conscious indifference to consequences”  

Georgia’s Cap on Punitive Damages

Punitive damages traditionally were unlimited, but various tort reform movements throughout the country have led to their curtailment. Georgia’s punitive damages statute, found at OCGA § 51

-12-5.1, caps punitive damages in most personal injury cases to $250,000. However, there are a few exceptions to the cap, including: 

  • Products liability cases 
  • Cases in which the defendant acted or failed to act with the specific intent to cause harm
  • Cases in which the defendant acted or failed to act while under the influence of drugs or alcohol

Taylor v. The Devereaux Foundation, Inc., et al.

In Taylor v. The Devereaux Foundation, Inc., et al., the plaintiff argued that Georgia’s punitive damages cap violated the Georgia constitution — specifically her right to a jury trial, her right to equal protection, and the separation of powers. The court walked through each of these claims and, after extensive analysis, found each one of them unconvincing. To show that a statute is unconstitutional, the plaintiff must show a “clear and palpable” conflict between the statute and the Georgia constitution, a burden the court found Taylor did not meet. As such, Georgia’s punitive damages cap will remain the law of the land for the foreseeable future. 

Recover the Damages You Are Entitled to With Help from a Tifton Personal Injury Attorney 

While Georgia’s cap on punitive damages survived its constitutional challenge, punitive damages remain available for plaintiffs — and in some cases, uncapped. For more information about seeking punitive damages awards in Georgia, please contact a Tifton personal injury attorney at the Hudson Injury Firm by calling 229-396-5848 or using our online form