If you are a victim of an alcohol-related accident, Virginia law grants you the right to sue the driver and seek restitution for your injuries. These are compensatory damages, which are meant to cover the tangible and intangible losses resulting from the accident. However, if it is found that the driver in question acted in a malicious or egregious manner, you might be eligible to receive punitive or exemplary damages as well.

Difference between Compensatory Damages and Punitive Damages

Compensatory damages – as the term indicates – are meant to compensate you for the losses you suffered as a result of getting injured in the accident. The compensation typically covers the following losses.

  • Medical expenses
  • Cost of long-term care
  • Lost earnings
  • Loss of earning capacity
  • Pain and suffering
  • Diminished quality of life

Punitive damages, on the other hand, are meant to punish the at-fault party for their flagrantly bad behavior. In other words, the reason for awarding punitive damages is not to compensate the victim, but to impose a steep financial cost on the at-fault party and to discourage them from behaving in the same way ever again.

What Does Virginia Law Say about Punitive Damages?

According to Section 8.01-44.5 of the Virginia Code, a person who is injured by an intoxicated driver is eligible to receive punitive damages, if it is established that the driver in question acted in a willful or wantonly negligent manner.

It should be noted that punitive damages are not awarded based on the severity of your injuries. Even if you have suffered grievous injuries in the accident, you will only be awarded compensatory damages – if it is found that the driver in question acted in a negligent manner – without any malicious intent.

Punitive damages are awarded in a Virginia drunk driving claim only if the following things can be established.

  • The driver in question had a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.15 or more at the time of the accident.
  • When the driver in question started drinking, or while they were drinking, they knew – or should have known – that their driving ability would be seriously affected.
  • The accident in which you were injured was caused directly or primarily as a result of the driver’s intoxication.

The law also states that if the driver in question unreasonably refuses to undergo a BAC test after the accident, their conduct can be termed ‘willful’ and it shall be deemed that they acted with a conscious disregard for the safety of others. In such a scenario, the court might be inclined to award punitive damages even if the at-fault driver’s BAC is not submitted as part of the evidence.

Factors Taken Into Account While Determining Punitive Damages in Virginia

Unlike compensatory damages, punitive damages are not calculated based on the quantifiable losses you suffered in the accident. Instead, the court will take a variety of factors into account to determine whether punitive damages should be awarded in the first place and if so, how much should be awarded.

Common factors that are taken into account while determining punitive damages in Virginia include:

  • The extent of willfulness or wanton disregard for others’ safety displayed by the at-fault driver’s actions
  • Whether it was the at-fault driver’s first offense or if they have been charged with and/or convicted of similar offenses before
  • The degree to which the at-fault driver’s actions could have been avoided
  • The extent of damages caused by the at-fault driver’s actions

Cap on Punitive Damages in Virginia

Section 8.01-38.1 of the Virginia Code places a cap or upper limit on the amount of punitive or exemplary damages that can be awarded to the plaintiff in a personal injury case. The maximum amount of punitive damages that can be awarded in a tort claim is $350,000. In case the jury awards a larger amount to a plaintiff, it will be reduced to $350,000 by the judge.

It should be noted that the court’s decision to award punitive damages will not have any impact on the amount of compensatory damages you are entitled to. In other words, the at-fault party cannot argue that your compensation should be reduced just because you have been awarded punitive damages.

Choose the Right Virginia Drunk Driving Accident Lawyer to Fight for You

If you have suffered serious injuries in an alcohol-related accident, the automobile accident lawyers at Shapiro, Appleton, & Washburn can help you get the restitution you are owed.

We can calculate the value of your claim after taking all your losses into account, collect the evidence required to support your claim, determine whether it is possible to seek punitive damages from the at-fault party, and take legal action to recover the monetary damages you deserve.

We have over 30 years of experience in handling alcohol-related accident claims and we will fight tenaciously to recover every dollar of damages you are owed. Call us today at (833) 997-1774 or contact us online to schedule a free consultation with one of our Virginia personal injury attorneys.