Automobile accidents caused by drinking and driving are unfortunately something we see far too often. However, we are pleased that we recently resolved a motor vehicle accident claim for two clients who were involved in a wreck that was caused by a drunk driver.
In this case, our clients were riding in a SUV on Memorial Parkway in Huntsville, Alabama when the at-fault driver failed to yield the right of way and made a left hand turn and struck our clients vehicle causing it to flip three times. At the scene of the crash, the investigating police officer spoke with the at-fault driver and determined he was under the influence of alcohol and he was arrested and charged with DUI. Upon being retained in this case, we investigated the background of the at-fault driver and determined he had prior arrests for DUI, which is often the case. We also spoke with and obtained an affidavit from a witness to the wreck whose statement about the erratic driving of the at-fault driver prior to the impact helped make our clients’ case even stronger.
Because of the at-fault driver’s conduct we were able to make claim for compensatory and punitive damages. Compensatory damages are for items such as: past/future lost wages, past/future medical bills, pain and suffering, out of pocket expenses, and mental anguish. Whereas, punitive damages are to punish the at-fault party and to send a message to others that this type of conduct is not tolerated in the community. In order to make a claim for punitive damages under Alabama law, a plaintiff must establish the at fault party’s conduct was reckless and/or wanton IE the defendant knew or should have known their conduct was going to cause harm to others. In a typical car accident claim under Alabama law you cannot recover punitive damages; however, when there is egregious conduct such as drinking and driving you can establish wanton and reckless conduct which will give rise to a claim for punitive damages.
In this case, the at fault driver’s insurance carrier’s policy had an exclusion for punitive damages. This means his insurance carrier would not include in their evaluation the value of the punitive damages aspect of the claims. While an automobile insurance carrier is allowed to exclude punitive damages from a liability policy, Alabama prohibits such an exclusion from uninsured motorist coverage in Alabama. This means uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage in Alabama does provide coverage for punitive damage claims. Thus, in these claims, we made a recovery against the at-fault driver and his insurance carrier for compensatory damages and then made a recovery against our clients’ uninsured motorist carrier for punitive damages.
We are pleased we were able to reach a just and fair settlement for clients in this matter. M&B attorney Morris Lilienthal represented our clients in this matter. If you have a question about an Alabama car accident claim, please call Morris for a free consult.