Punishing Drunk Drivers—Seeking Punitive Damages After an Accident

Auto Accident Blackburn & Green - March 25, 2016

Drunk Driving.Drunk driving is a serious problem throughout Indiana. When a drunk driver causes an injury, it is important that he or she pay for the damage done. While punishing drunk drivers is usually under the purview of the criminal justice system, civil courts have the ability to assign punitive damages as punishment to drunk drivers who have exhibited extreme levels of negligence or recklessness.

In a personal injury or negligence lawsuit, there are two types of damages that could be assessed against the defendant: compensatory damages and punitive damages. Compensatory damages compensate an injured person for expenses like medical bills and lost wages. They also provide compensation for a person’s pain, suffering, or emotional harm.

In comparison, punitive damages are not meant to compensate the injured person. Instead, punitive damages are meant to both punish the defendant for his or her wrongdoing and to deter others from committing the same act.

To support an award of punitive damages, an injured person must show by clear and convincing evidence that the defendant acted with malice, fraud, gross negligence, or oppressiveness. This is a very high standard to meet and driving under the influence on its own usually does not constitute gross negligence without some other aggravating factor.

When deciding whether or not to assess punitive damages in a drunk driving case, a judge may consider the circumstances of the accident, the defendant’s blood alcohol level, and the defendant’s history of drunk driving, if any. People with extraordinarily high blood alcohol levels or those with a history of drunk driving are more likely to have punitive damages assessed against them.

Indiana limits the amount of punitive damages that can be set against a defendant. Punitive damages cannot exceed three times the total amount of compensatory damages or $50,000, whichever is greater. Additionally, because the purpose of punitive damages is to punish the defendant rather than compensate the injured party, Indiana law gives 75% of punitive damages awards to the state’s Violent Crime Victims Compensation Fund.

Filing a lawsuit that seeks compensatory and/or punitive damages from a drunk driver is completely separate from any criminal charges that may be filed. While a personal injury lawsuit may be strengthened if the defendant is convicted of or pleads guilty to drunk driving, a civil lawsuit may be filed regardless of the outcome of the criminal case.

If you were injured by a drunk driver, you have the right to claim damages from that person. At Blackburn & Green, our attorneys can help you seek fair compensation for your injuries.  For a free consultation at one of our 27 office locations throughout Indiana, contact Blackburn & Green today by calling (800) 444-1112 or (260) 422-4400.

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