The Role of Punitive Damages in Drunk Driving Accident Lawsuits

    Posted on Friday, June 21st, 2024 at 9:00 am    

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    Falling victim to a drunk driving accident can shatter lives in an instant. You may be struggling with medical debt, wondering how to make ends meet without your lost income, and grappling with immense physical and emotional pain. While you can seek compensation for these losses through a drunk driving accident lawsuit, don’t overlook the potential role of punitive damages in your DUI case. These damages go beyond just making you whole – they serve to condemn and punish the drunk driver’s reprehensible actions.

    What Are Punitive Damages?

    Compensatory damages in personal injury cases primarily cover losses like medical expenses, lost earnings, pain and suffering, emotional distress, and diminished quality of life. Their aim is to fully restore the plaintiff’s financial and personal losses as much as possible, striving to make the plaintiff whole again.

    In contrast, punitive damages do not compensate the plaintiff for a particular loss. Instead, they punish the defendant for especially reckless, egregious, or reprehensible behavior. Punitive damages also deter the defendant and others from engaging in similar misconduct by hitting them hard in the pocketbook. In drunk driving accident cases, courts may award punitive damages to send a strong message that society will not tolerate intoxicated driving.

    When Do Punitive Damages Apply in Drunk Driving Cases?

    Not every drunk driving accident case warrants an award of punitive damages. Generally, the drunk driver’s actions must have been particularly shocking, willful, or wanton. Factors that may justify punitive damages in a DUI case include:

    • An extremely high blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level, well above the legal limit
    • Prior DUI convictions indicating a pattern of drunk driving
    • Driving on a suspended license due to previous drunk driving offenses
    • Excessive speeding or reckless driving in addition to the intoxication
    • Intentionally fleeing the scene after causing the crash (hit and run)

    An experienced drunk driving accident attorney can assess the unique facts of your case to determine whether it meets the criteria for punitive damages. If so, they will gather compelling evidence to prove that the drunk driver’s conduct went beyond mere negligence or mistake, rising to the level of willful or wanton misconduct deserving of punishment.

    Pursuing Punitive Damages

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    Whereas compensatory damages are typically covered by the drunk driver’s auto insurance policy, punitive damages are not. Most insurance policies exclude coverage for willful or intentional acts. This means punitive damages are paid directly out of the defendant’s pocket. As such, your ability to collect a punitive damages award depends on the individual assets and financial resources of the drunk driver who hit you.

    Working with a skilled DUI accident attorney is essential for identifying and pursuing all potential sources of compensation, including punitive damages where appropriate. In addition to the intoxicated driver, other parties may share liability for the crash, such as a bar or restaurant that overserved the visibly drunk patron or a vehicle owner who negligently entrusted their car to someone with a history of DUI.

    Your attorney will file claims against all liable parties, demanding full and fair compensation for your injuries and losses. The legal complaint will include a claim for punitive damages, outlining the specific facts that justify the request. They will then leverage the threat of going to trial to negotiate aggressively for a favorable settlement. If the insurance company refuses to pay what your claim is worth, your attorney will present a persuasive case to a judge and jury, asking them to award you maximum compensation and punitive damages.

    Awards of punitive damages can reach into the millions of dollars in some cases. Although most states impose caps that limit the amount a plaintiff can recover, Georgia does not have a punitive damages cap in drunk driving accident cases.

    Contact an Experienced Georgia Drunk Driving Accident Lawyer Today

    At Jonathan R. Brockman, P.C., we believe drunk drivers should face serious consequences for shattering innocent lives. In addition to criminal charges, civil lawsuits give victims an important tool to hold intoxicated drivers accountable and send a strong message that the community will not tolerate drunk driving. While punitive damages cannot undo your immense trauma and loss, they can provide a sense of justice and help ease your financial burdens.

    If a drunk driver has injured you or someone you love, don’t hesitate to contact Jonathan R. Brockman, P.C. at (770) 205-8827 for a free consultation. We will listen to your story with empathy and explain your legal options for seeking maximum compensation, including punitive damages.

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