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Can I Sue for Punitive Damages in a Drunk Driving Claim?

Drunk driving, driving under the influence or driving while intoxicated – all terms used to describe the act of driving while over the legal blood alcohol level – can have life changing and potentially deadly consequences. Not only does the intoxicated driver place their own life at risk, they also endanger passengers and fellow motorists on the road given their impaired state and slowed reaction times. Society and the law recognize that this act is one of extreme disregard for life and safety. As such, special penalties are available for drunk driving cases which seek to reflect the seriousness of the offense, and penalize perpetrators.

What are Punitive Damages?

When suing someone for a personal injury, such as that suffered in an auto accident related to drunk driving, a monetary award is typically determined according to the damages you suffered. Medical expenses, damage to your car or personal property, even lost wages or the assessed value of your pain and suffering, all figure into the amount you will receive at trial.

Punitive damages go above your damages you have personally suffered and are awarded as a form of punishment to reflect the seriousness of the act – hence the name punitive. While compensatory damages are typically awarded in any case that involves harm, punitive damages are authorized by statute (aka law) and are typically reserved for more egregious and reckless offenses.

Punitive Damages in Drunk Driving Cases

Punitive damages are typically awarded for cases that involve reckless behavior or an extreme disregard for the health and safety of others. Drunk driving has been determined by many states to be just such an act. In order to receive punitive damages in your personal injury case involving a drunk driver you will typically be required to prove that the driver had been drinking and was intoxicated above the legal limit. This will mean that you will need to obtain a copy of the police report, DUI conviction (if any) and proof of any blood samples or breath sobriety tests.

Punitive Damages and Insurance Policies

Similarly to compensatory awards that make up for costs and damage that you have incurred as a result of someone else’s actions, punitive damages may be able to be recovered out of the drunk driver’s auto insurance policy. Any damage award in excess of the policy may be able to be recovered from the drunk driver.

If you have been involved in an auto-accident as a result of someone driving under the influence you should consult with a qualified lawyer to discuss your options for recovery. A car accident lawyer with experience dealing with drunk driving cases will be able to advise you on methods for effective recovery, such as suing for the limits of the insurance policy, or seeking to settle the case before trial. If you have questions about your case, speak to a personal injury lawyer today to ensure justice is done for you and your family.