Punitive Damages for a DUI Accident

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports that over 33,000 people die in motor vehicle crashes each year. Driving under the influence (DUI) accounts for nearly 32 percent of all traffic fatalities. DUI accidents continue to cause serious injuries and deaths throughout the nation. An individual who operates a motor vehicle with a blood alcohol level of .08 percent or higher is considered to be driving drunk. Some states have laws allowing police officers to arrest people even if their BAC level is less than that.

Why Determining Liability Is Important

There may be several vehicles involved in a DUI accident, and it is important to figure out who is to blame. Determining negligence is one of the most important factors in a personal injury claim. Each state has its own specific laws regarding how negligence is apportioned. Most allow victims to recover damages even if they were at fault. Only five states follow the legal theory of contributory negligence. This precludes victims from obtaining compensation if they contributed in any way to the accident. In a civil suit, the plaintiff has the burden of proving the defendant was at fault.

Compensatory Damages

Compensatory damages are intended to make the victim "whole" and are primarily aimed at replacing what was lost. They are broken down into both economic and non-economic categories as outlined below:

Monetary Losses

  • Cost of medical treatment
  • Past, present and future loss of wages
  • Property damage including vehicle replacement

Non-Economic Losses

  • Physical, emotional and mental pain and suffering
  • Permanent disfigurement or disability
  • Loss of the ability to enjoy life
  • Loss of consortium when the victim is unable to engage in physical relations with their spouse

To obtain compensation, the plantiff must have documented evidence regarding the treatment received from medical professionals.

Punitive Damages

Awarding punitive damages in a personal injury case is rare, but juries may be sympathetic to a victim who suffered a catastrophic injury. These types of damages are intended to punish the offender for reckless behavior. To make a case for punitive damages, the plaintiff must be able to show the following:

  • The behavior of the defendant was outrageous, such as driving drunk with a BAC of twice the legal limit.
  • The defendant was driving drunk and speeding at the time.
  • The defendant intended to cause harm to the plaintiff.
  • The defendant acted in a manner that was indifferent to human life.

Some states place a cap on punitive damages and only allow compensation up to a certain amount. The primary objective behind punitive damages is to deter the defendant and others from similar egregious behavior in the future. Alcohol related accidents are viewed as an aggravating factor, and juries are often more than willing to punish the defendant for bad behavior.

When to Call a Lawyer

Whether you are the victim of a DUI accident or facing a civil lawsuit, hiring a personal injury attorney may be necessary. In some cases the victim may be blamed even if they were not at fault. Contact a personal injury lawyer for legal advice regarding your particular situation.

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