According to the latest statistics from the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles, more than 6 percent of the car accidents that occur every year in our state are alcohol-related.
People involved in a crash caused by a drunk driver may face painful injuries, costly vehicle repairs and extensive medical bills. Being seriously injured in an accident with impaired drivers is truly a catastrophic and life-changing experience for victims and their families.
If anyone is injured by an impaired driver in the state of Virginia, punitive damages can be recovered.
What are Punitive Damages?
“Punitive damages” is the term used to describe the award of money paid to a victim by a negligent defendant that goes above and beyond what the defendant would normally have paid to only compensate his or her victim.
Unlike awards that attempt to compensate for the economic and non-economic damages a victim suffers, punitive damages do two very specific things: They punish the wrongdoer, and they deter others from doing the same thing.
Are Punitive Damages Allowed for Drunk Driving Accidents in Virginia?
Virginia courts will not allow a plaintiff to pursue punitive damages in all negligence cases.
Keep in mind: Negligence means that a person failed to do what a reasonable, prudent person would have done in the same or similar circumstances. Punitive damages generally are reserved for situations when a person’s conduct goes beyond that level of careless conduct.
Punitive damages often involve an amount that is far greater than what is awarded in compensatory damages. To obtain such an award, a plaintiff has to prove that a defendant knew that his or her actions were likely to cause harm but did it anyway. In some cases, it is enough to show that the defendant should have known due to the nature of the conduct that his or her actions would cause harm.
In the case in which a person gets behind the wheel after becoming impaired by alcohol consumption, you can see where punitive damages would be warranted.
What Is the Test for Punitive Damages in Virginia?
In Virginia, punitive damages are awarded if evidence shows that a defendant “acted with malice toward the plaintiff or the defendant’s conduct was so willful or wanton as to show a conscious disregard for the rights of others.”
In basic terms, three questions must be asked before punitive damages will be awarded:
- Did the defendant know that what he or she was doing posed a likely threat to others?
- Did the defendant consciously and knowingly disregard that knowledge and continue doing the activity that posed the threat?
- If someone was actually hurt, was the injury the natural and expected result of the dangerous situation that the defendant ignored?
Can You Obtain Punitive Damages from a Drunk Driver?
In many cases, punitive damages are available to the victim injured by a drunk driver in Charlottesville or other areas in Virginia.
In fact, under Virginia law, a defendant’s conduct is deemed sufficiently willful or wanton as to show a conscious disregard for the rights of others when the evidence proves:
- When the accident occurred, the defendant had a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.15 percent or more by weight by volume or 0.15 grams or more per 210 liters of breath
- At the time the defendant began drinking alcohol, or during the time he or she was drinking alcohol, the defendant knew or should have known that his or her ability to operate a motor vehicle would be impaired, or when the defendant was operating a motor vehicle, the defendant knew or should have known that his or her ability to operate a motor vehicle was impaired
- The defendant’s intoxication was a proximate cause of the injury to or death of the plaintiff.
Likewise, if the defendant driver refuses to submit to blood-alcohol testing, the law presumes that the driver’s conduct was bad enough to warrant punitive damages – provided there is sufficient other evidence to prove intoxication and each of the other remaining requirements are satisfied.
Contact the Charlottesville Drunk Driving Victim Attorneys
If you or a loved one was recently injured by an impaired driver in Charlottesville or surrounding areas in Virginia, you need an aggressive personal injury lawyer who understands what is needed to pursue the compensation you deserve. Contact the Kendall Law Firm today for a free consultation.