Despite the criminal penalties associated with drunk driving, intoxicated drivers continue to endanger their own lives and the lives of others. Mothers Against Drunk Driving statistics show that:
- 260 fatalities, as a result of a drunk driver, occurred in the state of Alabama in 2015;
- There were more than 2,657 injuries related to alcohol in the same year;
- There were about 15 alcohol-related crashes in the state per day during 2015, and
- The cost of drunk driving fatalities to taxpayers was a staggering $1.2 billion.
It can be easy to forget that drunk drivers can not only be held criminally liable for their actions, but also financially responsible for the pain and suffering they cause when their impaired driving kills or injures another person. In a civil lawsuit against a drunk driver the court’s function is to deter the driver from driving while intoxicated again, or even to take the driver off the street. If you were injured by an intoxicated driver, the goal of your Huntsville accident attorney will be to establish the impaired driver was responsible for your injuries. The goal of the court is to determine liability and how much compensation you are entitled to receive.
Civil vs. Criminal Liability in a Drunk Driving Accident
Generally speaking, civil settlements and verdicts will exceed what a criminal court mandates as restitution. Even when a drunk driver is found not guilty in a criminal court, this does not preclude a civil lawsuit and civil damages, as the burden of proof is less in civil cases than in criminal cases. On the flip side of that equation, simply because the driver was found criminally liable, does not mean he or she will be found civilly liable, although a criminal conviction is strong evidence in favor of the plaintiff. In the end, an auto collision caused by a drunk driver goes far beyond the term “accident.” Such a collision is the result of a reckless, selfish act, and, in some cases, an intentional act. Mothers Against Drunk Driving offers these startling statistics to those who feel sorry for a drunk driver who made a “mistake”:
- A person arrested for the first time for drunk driving has driven drunk, on average, 87 times prior to this arrest.
- Every day, Americans drive drunk more than 300,000 times—yet only about 3,200 of those are actually arrested, and even fewer convicted.
- Nearly 33 percent of all those arrested for DUI are repeat offenders.
- Twenty-seven people die each day across the nation as the result of a drunk driver.
Punitive Damages in a Drunk Driving Civil Case
Try to imagine if one of those twenty-seven people who died on any given day was someone you loved, and you can see that drunk drivers literally steal the future of many, many people. Full justice for drunk driving accidents can come only when those responsible are made to pay for the financial and emotional devastation they left behind. In order to truly gain justice, punitive damages are the answer. Punitive damages are considered special damages, which allow juries to financially punish drunk drivers, and through that financial award, provide a deterrent to prevent the person doing it again.
Punitive damages are in addition to compensation for medical bills, lost wages and pain and suffering. If the drunk driver, however, acted with reckless indifference to the consequences, he or she may be ordered to pay punitive damages whose sole purpose is to discourage a reckless disregard for the safety of others. Unfortunately, a plea deal which is little more than a slap on the wrist, simply fails to teach drunk drivers the lesson they need to learn. If this were not the case, there would simply not be the number of repeat offenders on the roadways.
Punitive damages are often called punishment damages because that is their sole purpose. Punitive damages can be significant, and in addition to hitting the drunk driver hard financially, they are also meant to embarrass the driver who put others at risk by driving drunk, and, hopefully, in the process, keep others from doing the same thing. In short, punitive damages are generally awarded when the acts of the defendant could fall under outrageous conduct, or an act with reckless indifference to the safety of others.
When a judge or jury considers punitive damages in a civil drunk driving case, they are allowed to consider the accident itself, the circumstances surrounding the accident, any relationship which exists between those involved, the driving history of the defendant, and even motive. Evidence of the driver’s BAC is also a consideration, whether from an actual blood alcohol test, eyewitness testimony or police testimony. Any indicators such as slurred speech, belligerence or impaired balance on the part of the drunk driver could be used to prove his or her level of intoxication.
Injured by a Drunk Driver? Call Martinson & Beason
If you were injured by the negligence of a drunk driver, or if you have lost a loved one because a driver got behind the wheel while impaired, it is important that you speak to an experienced attorney from Martinson & Beason. Our attorneys are skilled negotiators, yet aggressive litigators when appropriate. We will stand behind you as your advocate, ensuring your rights are fully protected, and helping shape a better future for you. We can file a civil case on your behalf, whether for the injuries you sustained, or a wrongful death suit for the death of a loved one. We believe you deserve the most knowledgeable representation available, and we believe we can offer that to you. Call Martinson & Beason today for a comprehensive evaluation of your Alabama drunk driving accident.