No one ever expects to be in a vehicle accident, and sometimes accidents just happen.
In the case of a drunk driving accident, someone made a decision to get behind the wheel when they were under the influence of alcohol.
Not only does this constitute negligent behavior, but there are also circumstances where this behavior is outrageous and worthy of punishment.
If you or a loved one was injured by a drunk driver, you are likely eligible for compensatory damages.
This is a monetary amount intended to restore you to your previous condition prior to the accident.
In some circumstances, the defendant’s behavior may entitle you to drunk driving punitive damages.
What Are Punitive Damages?
Punitive damages in Virginia are meant to punish the defendant for their behavior before or after an incident occurred.
This is a sum of money that the court awards on top of the standard compensation you have been granted.
According to the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles, in 2019, 18,648 were convicted of driving under the influence in the state and 32% of all traffic fatalities were alcohol-related.
The experienced team at River Run Law has extensive experience with personal injury cases like drunk driving accidents.
The Virginia legal system has its own take on how punitive damages are awarded.
Your attorney’s knowledge and skill are important when it comes to your ability to receive maximum compensation for what you have endured.
Contact us for your free case consultation.
What Are Compensatory Damages?
If you or a loved one has been injured because of someone else’s negligent behavior, you should not have to be financially responsible for the repercussions.
There are two types of compensatory damages.
Economic damages cover the actual current and future costs of the injuries and damage you have sustained.
Some examples include medical bills, physical therapy, loss of wages, property damage, and other costs that can be calculated.
Non-economic damages are harder to quantify, but are certainly relevant.
These include the mental and emotional harm associated with the accident such as pain and suffering, post-traumatic stress, depression, anxiety, and other mental anguish that would not have existed if the accident had not happened.
When Are Punitive Damages in Virginia Available?
Every drunk driving accident is not automatically eligible for punitive damages.
There are two situations under Virginia’s personal injury statutes that justify an award of punitive damages.
Your personal injury lawyer can request punitive damages under Code of Virginia § 8.01-44.5 if:
- The drunk driver who caused the vehicle accident has a blood alcohol content level (BAC) of at least 0.15% at the time of the accident;
- The drunk driver was aware or should have been aware that he or she was too impaired to drive a vehicle; and
- Intoxication of the drunk driver was the proximate cause of your injury or the injury or death of a loved one.
The level of intoxication will be determined by the police officer on scene at the accident.
If the driver refuses to submit to a sobriety test as required under Virginia Code § 18.2-268.2 their impairment due to alcohol intoxication will be presumed.
Punitive Damages When BAC Is Below the Threshold
If the driver’s blood alcohol content was lower than 0.15%, you may still be entitled to punitive damages in Virginia.
You and your attorney will need to prove that the driver engaged in wildly reckless or malicious behavior.
This often requires records of how fast the driver was going and, potentially, witness testimony.
The evidence will be presented to a jury for ruling on whether or not punitive damages are appropriate.
The court will take into consideration the driver’s past criminal convictions and the circumstances surrounding the crash.
If the driver was previously found guilty of drunk driving, punitive damages are likely.
The standard you must demonstrate is that the driver’s actions were “sufficiently willful or wanton as to show a conscious disregard for the rights of others.”
Virginia Punitive Damages Cap
Just like with compensatory damages, the exact value of your claim depends on the circumstances surrounding your case and the severity of the harm you have endured.
Under Virginia Code § 8.01-38.1, the maximum amount of punitive damages that you are eligible to receive cannot exceed $350,000.
The jury is not advised of this cap on damages, but if the verdict is returned with a higher number, it will be automatically reduced to the maximum level.
Societal Impact of Punitive Damages in Virginia
When answering the question, What are punitive damages? The response generally focuses on the defendant.
In reality, the effects of punitive damages are meant to be far-reaching.
Punitive damages set a precedent and example for others who may not understand the gravity of the violation that occurred.
For some people, traditional legal remedies are not enough of a deterrent to prevent issues like drunk or reckless driving behavior.
The additional cost of potential punitive damages provides another level of punishment.
Punitive damages are not unique to drunk driving cases. They can also arise in other areas of personal injury when the degree of negligence is egregious.
Seek Drunk Driving Punitive Damages with Help from a VA Personal Injury Attorney
When you are dealing with the trauma of having been in a drunk driving accident, it can be hard to know where to turn.
River Run Law understands your need to get back to some sense of normal, and we can help you do that without compromising the value of your personal injury case.
We have the tools, resources, and experience to advocate on your behalf and seek maximum compensation, including punitive damages, in Virginia.
We offer no-cost case consultations to all clients and do not charge a fee unless we are able to recover compensation on your behalf.
Please do not hesitate to contact us to learn more about how we can help.