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Drunk Driving and Punitive Damages

Maryland car accident attorney

What are punitive damages?

When a crash victim pursues a car accident claim, his or her attorney tallies up all financial losses (medical expenses, lost wages, and property damage) and non-economic damages (pain, suffering, and loss of life enjoyment). These damages are directly related to the crash and we can say are caused by it.

Punitive damages, on the other hand, are not meant to reimburse the crash victim for his or her losses. Even though punitive damages are also part of or added to the award of the victim, they are intended to punish drivers (and other responsible parties) for their conduct and outright recklessness. Punitive damages also send a clear message to society that reckless or intentional behavior that endangers others will not be tolerated.

The Ability to Recover Punitive Damages in an Accident Case from Courts in Our Area

Unlike the District and Virginia, Maryland does not yet provide the victim of an auto accident with the ability to recover punitive damages due to the fact that the driver was drunk at the time of the accident.  The State of Virginia does allow for the recovery of such damages which may be up to three times the amount of the Plaintiff’s actual losses, if the victim can show that (a) driver’s blood alcohol level (“BAC”) was at a certain level at the time of the accident (b) driver refused a blood test; (c) the driver knew he was impaired before he decided to drive and did so anyway, or (d) if the driver has a history of drinking and driving offenses prior to this accident.

The District has a higher burden, which makes recovery unlikely, because providing a state of mind is required, but lately there have been a number of Judges who have allowed punitive damages in DUI accident situations.  In D.C. the victim must prove, by clear-and-convincing evidence that the acts of the drunk driver were "accompanied by conduct and a state of mind evincing malice or its equivalent." District of Columbia v. Jackson, 810 A.2d 388, 396 (D.C. 2002). To establish this standard of fault a victim or the plaintiff must prove two things: (1) "the defendant acted with evil motive, actual malice, deliberate violence or oppression, or with intent to injure, or in willful disregard for the rights of the plaintiff"; and (2) "the defendant's conduct itself was outrageous, grossly fraudulent, or reckless toward the safety of the plaintiff." District of Columbia v. Jackson, 810 A.2d at 396 (quoting Croley, 759 A.2d at 695).

Maryland Law and the Chamber of Commerce

Maryland, for many years and despite numerous attempts, has not passed law awarding punitive damages to victims of drunk drivers, due largely to the efforts of the insurance, business and the liquor lobbies.

There is and has been a bill in the Maryland General Assembly that would allow punitive damages against drunk drivers who cause “injury or wrongful death while operating a motor vehicle.” Punitive damages would be available against drunk drivers:

  1. With a blood alcohol concentration of over .15; or
  2. With a blood alcohol concentration of over .08, and was driving on a suspended or revoked license or had entered a plea of nolo contendere or received probation before judgment within the last 5 years.

Why support punitive damages?

The other upside to awarding punitive damages for victims of drunk drivers is that it gives the victims a some piece of mind, but more importantly, it deters persons from driving drunk because there will be a financial consequence, as well as, a criminal one. It is unclear in the studies that have been conducted whether punitive damage awards actually decrease the rate of drunk driving.

If you were injured in a crash with a drunk driver, it's critical that you speak to an experienced Maryland car accident attorney who can fight to maximize your compensation, including pursuing punitive damages against a reckless driver.

To learn more about the legal rights available to you, contact the Law Offices of Stuart L. Plotnick, LLC and schedule your free case consultation.

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