If you are injured by or lost a loved one to a car accident caused by a drunk driver, you may not only recover compensation for medical expenses and pain and suffering, but you may also be able to recover what is known as “punitive damages.” The word punitive means inflicting punishment, and punitive damages that are awarded against a drunk driver are done so in order to punish the driver. Thus, such damages are awarded above and beyond actual damages for medical expenses, lost wages, and pain and suffering.
The standard for obtaining punitive damages under Georgia law is that the plaintiff shows by clear and convincing evidence that the at-fault party’s actions showed “willful misconduct, malice, wantonness, oppression, or that entire want of care which would raise the presumption of conscious indifference to consequences.”
What that means is that punitive damages can generally be awarded when someone intentionally commits a really bad wrong or when the act is so bad that it shows a disregard for the safety of others, but you have to prove it by clear and convincing evidence. Thus, driving drunk (or driving under the influence of drugs) normally fits under that category. Not only does driving under the influence and causing a car accident enable a plaintiff to recover punitive damages, but even evidence that the at-fault driver was drunk shortly after the wreck or had a history of getting DUIs and driving drunk could also be used to show a drunk driver’s wanton disregard obtain punitive damages.
While normally, the rules of evidence in court can prevent the admission of information such as driving records or past criminal or DUI convictions, when a drunk driver causes a wreck after having a history of DUIs, then it is possible for evidence of his/her drunk driving history to be presented as a part of the case for punitive damages. Thus, when a victim of a drunk driving automobile accident is injured, it is important to conduct proper investigations of the at-fault driver and the circumstances that surrounded the car wreck. Talking to eyewitness, obtaining statements, photographs, videos, criminal records, and police reports are just some ways by which to obtain evidence to substantiate punitive damages for drunk driving claims.
Beyond that, if the at-fault driver is driving a company car or a commercial truck for a company, then the employer could even be held liable for negligent hiring, supervision and retention of a driver with a history of drunk driving. In fact, drivers of commercial tractor trailers are held to a higher standard of care for driving and could be subject to punitive damages for habitually being bad or reckless drivers.
Or, if the drunk driving accident is a result of the the driver having been over-served at a bar, restaurant, or party, then the party who served the alcohol could be liable under Georgia Dram Shop laws. The point is that a thorough investigation of a drunk driving accident is imperative, especially if a catastrophic injury is involved.
Often times, an automobile insurance company will settle a DUI or drunk driving case quickly in order to avoid exposure to more liability. Depending on the circumstances, that settlement could greatly exceed the actual medical expenses incurred. An experienced injury attorney is able to communicate the pertinent information to the insurance company to obtain fair and reasonable compensation.
As you can see, being hit by a drunk driver in Georgia and suffering injuries therefrom can be complicated. To avoid being duped by insurance companies who will underpay to avoid being economically exposed, it is imperative for people who have suffered serious injuries or lost loved ones to drunk drivers to consult with a qualified attorney. If you have any questions about claims against drunk drivers, call The Davis Injury Firm at 404-593-2620 for a consultation.
About the Author Betty Nguyen Davis is an Atlanta attorney who solely focuses her practice on plaintiff’s personal injury work. Betty is consistently recognized by her peers as a top attorney in Georgia by Super Lawyers and Georgia Trend and is highly recommended by her clients as a aggressive and persistent, yet caring and accessible attorney.