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Injuries Caused by Drunk Driver - What Losses Can Be Recovered & Info on Punitive Damages

Each and every day, approximately 28 people in the United States are killed in car crashes that involve an alcohol-impaired driver, according to the CDC. That translates to one death every 51 minutes. This is why Virginia and North Carolina have laws designed to penalize drunk drivers that cause injuries when a civil claim is filed. However, a civil claim for personal injuries requires action on the part of the victim. You need to speak to an attorney right away so your legal rights are protected and a lawsuit is filed in a timely manner. If you take action and hire an experienced Virginia & North Carolina car accident injury lawyer, you may be able to obtain financial restitution for your harms and losses.

Losses that Can Be Recovered in Car Accidents Caused by Drunk Drivers

Our firm strongly believes that drunk drivers who recklessly throw caution to the wind and wind up harming others in a car wreck should be held accountable for their careless and irresponsible conduct. When you file a personal injury action, you are seeking financial restitution from the drunk driver's auto insurance policy for the following harms and losses:

  • Accident-related medical bills
  • Lost income
  • Future income that may be lost due to an inability to return to work
  • Pain and suffering (including mental anguish, emotional distress, etc.)

In addition, drunk drivers could also be held liable for punitive damages. These are damages meant to punish and deter reckless and wanton behavior like getting behind the wheel of car after drinking heavily.

Explanation of Punitive Damages in Car Accident Injuries Caused by a Drunk Driver in Virginia

Under Virginia Code § 8.01-44.5, a jury, in its discretion, may award punitive damages to the injured party if the evidence proves that the defendant acted with malice or their conduct was so willful or wanton as to show a conscious disregard for the rights of others. This statute also states that it will be presumed that the drunk driver's conduct was sufficiently willful or wanton when there is evidence that the driver had a blood alcohol content at or above .15 at the time of the accident, or the driver refused to take a breathalyzer test.

However, it is important to understand that the Virginia legislature decided to place a "cap" on punitive damage awards. This cap is codified in § 8.01-38.1. The maximum recovery for punitive damages in Virginia is $350,000. This is a monetary award in addition to the compensation for your bodily injuries.

Explanation of Punitive Damages in Car Accident Injuries Caused by a Drunk Driver in North Carolina

The laws related to punitive damages are somewhat different in North Carolina when compared to Virginia. In both states, the intent behind allowing a punitive damages award is to punish a defendant who committed egregiously wrongful acts and deter others from acting similarly.  In contrast, a claim of punitive damages can only be made when your North Carolina car accident lawyer can prove, by clear and convincing evidence, that an aggravating factor exists that is related to the injury or damages for which compensatory damages were awarded, according to N.C.G.S. § 1D-15. Basically, that means there is evidence of willful or wanton conduct. North Carolina statutes define willful or wanton conduct as “the conscious and intentional disregard of and indifference to the rights and safety of others, which the defendant knows or should know is reasonably likely to result in injury, damage, or other harm. Willful or wanton conduct means more than gross negligence.” Getting behind the wheel while heavily intoxicated generally meets this definition.

Like Virginia, there is a cap in place on recovery of punitive damages. In North Carolina, you can only recover three times the amount of compensatory damages, according to N.C.G.S. § 1D-25(b). However, a major loophole to this cap is that it does NOT apply to drunk driving car accident cases. This means if you were seriously injured in an accident with a drunk driver, there is no cap on damages.

Example Cases Involving Injuries Caused by Drunk Drivers

Attorneys at our law firm have represented thousands of clients who were seriously injured in automobile collisions, including collisions caused by intoxicated drivers. For example, an attorney who previously worked at our firm represented a middle school teacher who was hit head-on by a heavily intoxicated driver. The teacher suffered catastrophic bodily injuries including brain damage, broken bones, a collapsed lung, pancreatitis, respiratory failure, hemorrhagic shock, and internal bleeding. The injuries were so severe that she had to undergo over a dozen surgeries and could not even walk for three months.

The driver who hit her was extremely drunk. Police found an empty vodka bottle in the back seat of his vehicle and even after two hours had passed, the at-fault driver had a blood alcohol content level of .09 (above the legal limit of .08).

A personal injury lawsuit was filed in Newport News, Virginia and it wound up going to trial. The jury recognized the severity of this awful accident and awarded the injured teacher $2.5 million in compensatory damages, including $1 million in punitive damages.

Let Our Law Firm Help You

To discover the legal options available to you, talk with a knowledgeable attorney at our car accident injury law firm about your potential case. If you decide to pursue a claim, we will prepare the court documents and file a lawsuit on your behalf, so you can focus on healing and putting the pieces of your life back together. Our skilled Virginia & North Carolina car accident lawyers will represent you in court and handle all court-related matters regarding your personal injury case.