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Virginia/Carolina Personal Injury Lawyers Discuss Recent Personal Injury Case Verdict against Drunk Driver Including Punitive Damages

Posted on Jan 06, 2009

Virginia/Carolina Personal Injury Lawyers Discuss Recent Personal Injury Case Verdict against Drunk Driver Including Punitive Damages

Juries do not have sympathy for drunk drivers who cause serious personal injuries, whether in Virginia (VA), North Carolina (NC) or elsewhere. Even in a case of very small medical bills, a recent Virginia jury in a conservative state court jurisdiction granted a $281,000 verdict for a teenager injured in a car accident hit by a totally drunk driver with a .32% blood alcohol content (BAC).

The injured plaintiff was a high school student/cheerleader who was 16 years old at the time of the car accident. The drunk driver sideswiped a car, causing it to flip over, and then the drunk driver's car traveled across a wide median and collided head on with the teenager's car. Fortunately for the 16-year-old, her medical bills totaled only $760 mainly for chiropractor visits for back problems. The chiropractic care was mostly for pre--- existing scoliosis, but the chiropractor believed the scoliosis was made worse because of the car accident, and the teenager would need to have chiropractic care for years into the future, estimated at about $10,000 over time.

The defendant, who had blown a BAC of .32% was charged with his third driving under the influence conviction (DUI/DWI). He admitted drinking Wild Irish Rose all weekend at the time he was arrested.

 Although the teenager had less than $1000 of medical bills, witnesses testified about her fear of driving at night, and the mental impact the accident had on her, which had some impact on their ability to participate in some cheerleading and track at school.

 The plaintiff sought compensatory damages for her personal injuries, but in Virginia as in most states punitive damages can be claimed against a drunk driver. Punitive damages are punishment damages and are not connected directly to the victim's personal injuries, medical bills or lost wages. In inappropriate situations, where a defendant drunk driver’s conduct is outrageous, and in conscious disregard of safety, punitive damages may be granted by the jury .

The case was heard by a jury in Rockingham County Circuit Court, Virginia, known as a fairly conservative county. The jury awarded $80,000 for the personal injury, with only $764 in actual medical bills damages, and $200,000 in punitive damages, all against the drunk driver for a total verdict of $281,000. Naturally, the lawyer representing the drunk driver (likely an insurance lawyer) is trying to have the court set aside the verdict as inappropriate and excessive as of the time this article is drafted.

The defenses that a lawyer can make on behalf of an obviously drunk driver, or a drunk driver with repeat drunk driving/DUI/DWI convictions, are very limited in front of a jury. Our law firm handles only personal injury law, and in cases of an intoxicated driver or of alleged drunk driving, we have gained experience in investigating and locating the necessary evidence to prove drunk driving and intoxication in any civil personal injury case context.

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