There are big differences between the goings on in Criminal Court and Civil Courts. In a criminal action the bad guy goes to jail – at least we strive to make sure he does. In a civil court, we don’t have the luxury of locking up the bringer of injury.
In a civil case, we appeal to the court to make the defendants pay for damages they have caused in the past and will cause in the future. We seek to offset medical bills, for example, or obtain the money the plaintiff might have earned but now cannot due to the injuries in question. We also factor in the pain and suffering the victim has and will suffer in the future and ask that there be compensation for it.
Defining Punitive Damages
Occasionally, you hear the term “punitive damages.” Punitive damages arise in civil cases when the defendant’s actions are so willful, wanton, and deliberate that they approach criminality. Punitive damages stand somewhere in the gray area between criminal law and civil law. They are not meant to repay hard costs. They are meant to punish the defendant for his malicious and outrageous behaviors. They are, essentially, a fine for criminality. Punitive damages are imposed to punish wrong-doers and, hopefully, deter such behaviors in others.
Here is an example.
A driver runs a red light and hits another car. There are injuries to the people in the other car and a civil suit follows. The plaintiffs ask for general damages and an additional amount for punitive damages.
At trial, the jury concludes that the defendant red-light-runner should be held liable for the physical injuries and awards general damages in the amount of $190,000. The jury awarded an additional $10,000 in punitive damages.
Cullen v. Novak, 201 Ga. App. 459 (1991)
As often happens in personal injury cases, the defendant’s lawyers asked the trial court to call for a new trial because the damages awarded are “excessive.” In this case – Cullen v. Novak, 201 Ga. App. 459 (1991) – the trial court did not grant a re-trial. The defense then appealed the verdict, arguing that their client should have been granted another trial. They also claimed that the trial court made several technical errors including the fact that the judge allowed punitive damages to be awarded even though there was no evidence of “willful misconduct, malice or wantonness” on the part of the defendant.
The Court Determined the Defendant Wasn’t so Intentional After All
The Georgia Court of Appeals saw no reason to conclude that the defendant set out deliberately to run a red light and injure the plaintiff. The man ran a red-light, but did not do so intentionally. Hence, the appeals court determined that punitive damages were not in order. The court ordered that the $10,000 for punitive damages be removed from the jury’s verdict. All the other alleged errors were found to be without merit. Nevertheless, when all was said and done, the plaintiff had the money to pay for his medical treatment.
While punitive damages may not always apply, obtaining payment for the damages done by the negligence of others can often have huge implications. Medical bills are difficult enough to pay in any circumstance, but impossible to deal with when the victim is rendered unable to do his/her job.
Lives are often forever changed in a civil courtroom. A jury’s decision, in which the law places an overwhelming and nearly immovable faith, can mean the difference between buying groceries or getting the medical treatment you need.
Car Accident Lawyers Serving the People of Atlanta
If you find your life to be impacted by the negligent actions of others, seek legal advice as soon as possible. Even if you think your case is weak, as specialists, we can often find a way to proceed. We provide a free evaluation to help you make the right decision about how to move forward. At The Millar Law Firm we specialize in personal injury. Our expertise is an essential tool in balancing the scales of justice. Call us today.