$44.4 million punitive damages award reduced to $250,000

Last Friday,  an Atlanta jury returned a verdict of $54.4 million in a truck wreck case involving the death of a a Jamaican immigrant. It was a great verdict resulting from great trial advocacy.

Of the $54.4 million in the verdict, $44.4 million was punitive damages. In my post about the verdict, I wondered how the plaintiff could avoid reduction of the punitive award to $250,000 under the tort reform law that has been on the books since 1987.

Well, on Monday, the judge did judge that, cutting the punitive award from $44.4 million to $250,000, and the total verdict from $54.4 million to $10,250,000.

Meanwhile, we are waiting on a Court of Appeals ruling in a case case year where we got a $2.3 million judgment in a trucking case involving a broken leg. No issue of punitive damages went to the jury, but we did include a claim for attorney fees and expenses of litigation based on "bad faith" conduct in violation of mandatory safety rules, specificially the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations.  The jury was able to use that to add one-third of compensatory damages for attorney fees, plus all of our expenses of litigation. The Court of Appeals has until the end of July to rule in the case. 

Meanwhile, in another case a trial judge in Macon reviewing the same legal authorities, said he thought it would be reversible error not to include the "bad faith" attorneys fee claim in jury instructions.

If the plaintiff in the trial last week had emphasized the claim for bad faith attorney fees based on violation of Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations, a claim  which is not subject to a statutory cap, in addition to the claim for  punitive damages which is capped, the net result would be a judgment for about $13,583,333 plus expenses, rather than $10,250,000.  In effect, $3,333,333 may have been left on the table.  In such a case, the claim for attorney fees and expenses under Georgia law is potentially worth a great deal more than the "sexier" claim for punitive damages.

This is one of the points I am prepared to cover in a seminar presentation in St. Louis later this month for the Association of Interstate Trucking Lawyers of America, an organization for which I am on the National Advisory Board.

The Shigley Law Firm  represents plaintiffs in wrongful death and catastrophic injury cases statewide in Georgia.  A "lawyers’ lawyer" recently elected Secretary of the State Bar of Georgia, Ken Shigley has been designated as a "SuperLawyer" in Atlanta Magazine and one of the "Legal Elite" in Georgia Trend Magazine. He is a Certified Civil Trial Advocate of the National Board of Trial Advocacy, and former chair of both the Southeastern Motor Carrier Liability Institute and the Georgia Insurance Law Institute. He focuses on cases arising from truck wrecks and accidents (tractor trailers truck wrecks, bus wrecks, semi truck wrecks,18 wheeler truck wrecks, big rig truck wrecks, log truck wrecks, dump truck wrecks.

 

  • Lisa Nessmith

    Can punitive damages be recovered if the driver who caused the accident was totally at fault but both drivers were DUI?