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Claims Against Drunk Drivers

The laws in most states treat drunk drivers as reckless. Because drunk driving approaches “intentional” misconduct rather than simply making a mistake while driving (i.e. a “negligent” act), most states permit a person injured in an accident with a drunk driver to recover both (1) compensatory damages (lost income, medical bills, property damage, and pain and suffering damages) and (2) “punishment” damages from the drunk driver.

Punishment damages are thought to hopefully discourage the drunk driver (and others) from driving drunk in the future. These “punishment” damages are called “punitive damages.” The amount of punitive damages that an injured person may recover from a drunk driver are determined by a jury. However, there is a limit to the amount of money a jury can award as punitive damages. Since most insurance policies exclude coverage for intentional wrongdoing, and only provide insurance for damages caused by negligence, punitive damages must come from the pocket of the drunk driver. The law does not permit the “punishment” to be so large so as to bankrupt the drunk driver. So, when determining the proper amount to award to punish the drunk driver, the jury is asked to consider the net worth of the drunk driver. Obviously, it would take a larger award to punish some folks with a larger net worth than it would take to punish a drunk driver with no assets. For example, recently, the very wealthy owner of a Polo Country Club was accused of drunkenly causing an automobile accident that killed a young college student. Clearly, any punitive damage award against this individual would have to be very large to serve the purposes of “punishing” the wealthy drunk driver. Additionally, some states have laws that do not permit punitive damages to be larger than a multiple of the amount of other money awarded for compensation (for medical bills, lost wages and pain and suffering).

Accordingly, for example, if an injured person’s total damages for medical bills, lost wages and pain and suffering were $500,000, a jury might determine that in addition to the $500,000, a drunk driver with a net worth of $100,000 should pay $20,000 as additional punishment damages (20% of their net worth). On the other hand, the same jury might want to award punitive damages of $2,000,000 against a drunk driver with a net worth of $10,000,000 (again, 20% of net worth). However, the $2,000,000 punitive damage award against the wealthy drunk driver in the above example might be limited to $1,500,000 in a state that only limits punitive damages to three times the other damages (i.e. 3 x the $500,000 damage award for medical expenses, lost wages, etc.).

If you or a family member are injured by a drunk driver and/or a family member is killed by a drunk driver, it is very important that the evidence of that driver’s drunken state at the time of the accident be preserved. The police will often gather evidence of that driver’s intoxication, and ultimately, you will certainly access this evidence. However, one cannot always rely only upon this potential source of evidence. Sometimes, the police make errors in the manner in which they collect breath or a blood sample making that evidence unusable at trial. Sometimes, the police misplace such evidence. Fortunately, there are other sources that your lawyer can immediately identify and preserve. For example, eyewitnesses to an accident may have observed the alleged drunk driver immediately following the accident and witnessed that driver’s difficulty walking or speaking with slurred speech. Maybe a witness even smelled alcohol on that driver. With proper investigation, you might be able to discover where the other driver was coming from – and it may turn out to be a bar. In that case, your lawyer might attempt to see if the bartender remembered the person and obtain copies of any credit card receipt used to purchase alcohol at the bar. This would be useful to establish the amount of alcohol the drunk driver consumed before the accident.

Unless the person who caused an accident is independently wealthy, the sole source of funds to compensate you for your damages will likely be from the drunk driver’s insurance company. As mentioned earlier, automobile insurance will pay for damages caused by the negligent driving (medical bills, lost wages and pain and suffering) but will not cover “punishment” damages because they arise from “intentional misconduct.” However, the insurance company is much more motivated to fairly settle your claim for the damages that are covered (medical bills, lost wages and pain and suffering caused by negligence) if there is a chance that a jury will also hear evidence of drunk driving. The insurance company fears that evidence of drunk driving will prejudice the jury against the drunk driver, making the awards for the negligently caused damages larger than they might otherwise be.

I specialize in helping people collect fair compensation for injuries caused by the negligence of others, including injuries caused by drunk drivers.

Consequently, when you ask me to help you with your claim, I know what documents and other evidence will be useful and persuasive to maximize your claim. I know how to quickly and competently preserve, gather, and present, the evidence that will support your claim to the insurance company considering your claim. The insurance company has a duty to protect its clients from punitive damages (even though not covered) if it can obtain a release of that claim by paying you fairly for the other damages that are covered. If I am presenting your claim for compensation, the insurance company knows that if they don’t offer you the money you are due, you have the help of an attorney who can, and will, effectively present your case to a jury and that you will recover fair compensation and, more importantly, punishment damages. However, because of my reputation for competence, about 99% of the claims I have presented have been fairly settled without the need for time consuming and expensive litigation.

If you are not sure whether you have a claim, I am glad to speak with you in a free consultation to give you my opinion about your case. Please feel free to call me at (434) 295- 6659 to tell me what happened and describe your injuries. When you call that number, I will either answer the telephone or you will get my personal voice mail. If you get my voice mail and leave your name and telephone number, I will personally return your call, usually within the hour.

If you are more comfortable emailing to me a description of what happened, please fill out the form on the home page of this website and I will get back to you with an analysis of whether or not you have a medical negligence claim.

If we work together on your case, you will have my personal attention to every detail of your claim and you will never reach me through an assistant or secretary or para-legal assistant- but will always be able to reach me directly on my cell phone (or via text) or through email. In this way, you will always know what is going on in your case and can always reach me quickly with any new developments or information that I should know.

I carefully limit the number of cases I take. By limiting my practice to those who have suffered serious injuries or death due to another’s negligence, I can dedicate my time to fully developing the claim to maximize the amount of money that will be paid as compensation for injuries, lost wages, and medical expenses. If you want to verify that this is indeed how I practice law, I will gladly provide the names and contact information of past clients (who have agreed to be contacted) so that you can verify that I give personal attention to each and every client’s case.