Victims of DUI accidents may be able to obtain punitive damages

According to Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), a drunk driver injures someone every two minutes. Unfortunately, this means thousands of people are killed in drunk driving crashes every year, and countless more are injured.

In spite of stringent drunk driving laws in most states, DUI remains a common criminal offense. Everyone agrees that a drunk driving accident involving serious injury or death is tragic. The question is how best to reduce or eliminate drunk driving injuries. In some states, one answer is to allow punitive damages for victims.

If you or a loved one was recently injured by a drunk driver, you may be wondering whether compensation is a possibility. Below you can find information about punitive damages in drunk driving accident cases. 

Punitive damages, defined

The purpose of punitive damages is to punish the defendant for intentional or reckless acts and deter him or her from repeating the same behavior. Not all injury victims will be able to receive punitive damages in cases involving negligence. This includes some instances involving drunk driving accidents. 

Punitive damages can result in a significant amount of money awarded to the victim or victim's family, regardless of how much it cost the victim in medical expenses, lost wages, and other financial consequences of becoming injured. Punitive damages are awarded in addition to compensation for these other losses. 

Virginia law

Virginia allows the victims of drunk driving accidents (or their families) to receive large sums of money from repeat offenders. In Virginia, before the victim can receive punitive damages, evidence must prove the following:

  • The repeat offender had a blood alcohol concentration of .15 percent or more at the time of the accident.
  • The defendant should have reasonably known that his or her ability to drive a vehicle would be severely impaired.
  • Driving under the influence was the direct cause of injury or death to the victim.

Will Maryland soon allow punitive damages?

This past February, the Maryland Senate voted in favor of a bill that would make it easier for the victims of drunk drivers to receive punitive damages as compensation for death. The bill, which the senators approved by a 43-1 vote, would allow plaintiffs to sue the defendant for punitive damages if he or she has been convicted in the past for DUI.

According to Senator Jamie Raskin, this bill could "correct a wrong." Senator Raskin believes that this bill would "raise the stakes" for drunk drivers and prevent them from committing further DUI offenses in the future.

The bill proposes that a BAC of .15 percent of the drunk driver would be the lower limit for plaintiffs to pursue punitive damages. This is almost twice the Maryland legal limit, which is a BAC of .08 percent. Drivers who refuse to take the BAC test would be presumed to have a BAC of .15 for civil liability purposes. This would deter drunk drivers from opting to not take the test.

The bill is currently in the House of Delegates and has yet to receive a vote. A similar bill did not pass the House last year. 

Wondering about your legal options?

While the purpose of punitive damages is to deter individuals from committing crimes, many people are in favor of punitive damages as a benefit to victims and their families, rather than simply as a form of punishment.

If you are wondering about your legal options if you or a loved one was involved in a serious accident caused by a drunk driver, speak to an experienced personal injury lawyer to discuss your case. 

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Steven H. Dorne

Attorney Steven H. Dorne

Attorney Steven H. Dorne is an accomplished lawyer who practices in state and federal courts in Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia. He brings more than 30 years of experience and a long record of success to each case. His law practice is distinguished by careful preparation and thorough analysis of each case...

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