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State Supreme Court Reverses Punitive Damages Award Finding Improper Jury Instruction

Late last month, the Supreme Court of Kentucky published their opinion in Nissan Motor Company v. Maddox. The case was surrounding a 2009 incident where the plaintiff and her then-husband were driving in their Nissan Pathfinder when they were hit by a drunk driver. The couple was wearing their seatbelts, but they both sustained injuries.

nissan-pathfinder-1466838 (1)The plaintiff’s husband sustained minor injuries to his foot. However, the plaintiff had to be extricated from her vehicle using emergency equipment and was taken to the hospital with serious injuries. She suffered several injuries, including damage to her vertebrae, hip, hip socket, ribs, and nerves, in addition to an abdomen rupture for which she had gastric bypass surgery. She ended up having to sustain 75 surgeries and 139 days in the hospital.

The woman filed a case against the driver’s estate and Nissan. She alleged that Nissan had a defectively designed restraint system and that they did not provide proper warnings about the car’s limitations. After a trial, it was determined that Nissan was 30% liable and the drunk driver was 70% liable. The jury found Nissan responsible for $2.6 million in compensatory damages and $2.5 million in punitive damages.

Nissan appealed, and the Court of Appeals affirmed on all issues. However, the Supreme Court reversed, finding that the trial court erred in assessing punitive damages against Nissan. The Court found that the plaintiff failed to present evidence or proof that the company’s behavior was reckless to the point that would justify such an award.

Punitive Damages Statutes in Georgia Cases

In most personal injury cases, if the plaintiff is successful they will be able to collect damages for their injuries. Usually, these damages are considered “compensatory damages,” meaning that they are designed to compensate the plaintiff for his or her losses. In certain cases, however, the jury or judge may award punitive damages. These damages are designed solely to punish the defendant and deter the defendant’s reckless or especially egregious behavior. Laws permitting punitive damages are extremely strict, and as a result these damages are rarely awarded.

In Georgia, punitive damages are considered “vindictive” or exemplary damages. Under Georgia law, these types of damages are only awarded in cases where the plaintiff can prove by clear and convincing evidence that the defendant’s actions showed oppression, wantonness, fraud, malice, or willful misconduct. Basically, the actions of the defendant have to illustrate a complete indifference to the consequences of their actions. Furthermore, these types of awards need to be specifically requested in the complaint.

Have You Been Injured in a Georgia Accident?

If you or a loved one has been injured because of the negligence of another in Georgia, you should consider speaking to an attorney to discuss your rights and remedies. Personal injury, premises liability, and similar actions can be extremely complex and often require the dedication and experience of a skilled attorney. These cases have strict requirements, and the failure to comply can drastically change the outcome of a case. If you have been injured, call one of the attorneys at Miller Legal Services at 770-284-3727 to schedule your free initial consultation.

Related Blog Posts:

Georgia Man Killed in Out-of-State Car Accident, Marietta Personal Injury Lawyer Blog, August 12, 2015.

Georgia Motorcyclist Involved in Fatal Accident After Colliding with Sedan, Marietta Personal Injury Lawyer Blog, August 26, 2015.