Punitive Damages: What Am I Entitled to When Hit by a Drunk Driver?

March 3, 2022 | By Francis Firm Injury Attorneys
Punitive Damages: What Am I Entitled to When Hit by a Drunk Driver?

Whether you are using the roads as a pedestrian, bicyclist, motorcyclist, or driver, being hit by an impaired driver can be an extreme shock. Unfortunately, drunk driving accidents are far from uncommon — and in many cases, they can cause severe injuries or even death. According to the Texas Department of Transportation, in 2020, there were 963 DUI-alcohol-related fatalities in the state. That equates to one death every nine hours and six minutes.

Although proceeds from a lawsuit can never replace a loved one, nor erase the serious injuries you may have received in an accident, if you are injured as a result of an impaired driver’s actions, you may be entitled to compensation, including punitive damages in some cases. Punitive damages are typically granted in a case where the wrongdoer’s conduct was so egregious that it warrants setting an example, punishing the conduct, and deterring the wrongdoer from doing the same thing again.

When Might Punitive Damages Apply in a Drunk Driving Accident?

The laws regarding drunk driving punitive damages are set by each state. Texas has a civil law in place regarding punitive damages in personal injury cases, which details the circumstances under which punitive damages might be available. In Texas, punitive damages are available in very egregious personal injury claims, including lawsuits that involve being hit by a drunk driver. However, in order to recover punitive damages, a unanimous jury verdict is needed.

Moreover, proving punitive damages in your personal injury case means more than just proving ordinary negligence: instead, you will need to prove gross negligence. This means you’ll need to show that the drunk driver acted with a conscious and extreme lack of care, putting other drivers and passengers on the road at risk while they were driving impaired.  If the driver was aware of his intoxicated conduct, and that his conduct would put people at extreme risk on the road, that may be enough to establish gross negligence and award exemplary damages.

What is The Purpose of Punitive Damages in Drunk Driving Cases?

The purpose of punitive damages is to punish the defendant for engaging in gross negligence and to deter them from doing it again in the future. Normally, in a personal injury claim, the victim can recover for their economic damages or out-of-pocket costs, such as medical bills, mechanic’s bills, and lost wages. They can also recover their non-compensatory, general damages, such as pain and suffering and the loss of quality of their life. Punitive damages are not designed to compensate a personal injury victim, but rather to punish the defendant. They are designed to be granted in addition to the special and general damages that the victim can establish.

How Are Punitive Damages Awarded for Drunk Driving Cases?

Personal injury punitive damages are typically awarded by a jury. During the trial, the jury will determine first whether liability for the accident rests with the defendant. The jury will then deliberate the amount of damages to award to the plaintiff. The following factors are weighed in determining whether to award drunk driver punitive damages:

  • The nature of the wrong
  • The character of the conduct involved
  • The degree of culpability of the wrongdoer
  • The situation and sensibilities of the parties concerned
  • The extent to which such conduct offends a public sense of justice and propriety

The maximum amount of punitive damages that can be recovered in Texas is $200,000 or an amount equal to two times the amount of economic and non-economic damages, not to exceed $750,000 — whichever of the two figures is greater. 

Based on that formula, while punitive damages in a drunk driving accident are granted in addition to your general and special damages, they can be based on the total amount of your economic and general damages, which makes it important to be able to prove those damages outright.

How Can the Francis Firm Help?

An experienced personal injury lawyer can help secure fair and reasonable compensation, including punitive damages as applicable, in your personal injury case. They can work with you to value your claim properly, and to establish liability — and gross negligence, as required in the case of punitive damages — against the drunk driver whose actions led to your accident.

If you’ve been injured by an impaired driver, the Francis Firm will discuss your rights and options with you in detail. Michael Francis is a board-certified personal injury trial attorney. He and his firm are the experienced Texas counsel who can help you get the medical care you need and the maximum possible compensation for your injuries. 

The Francis Firm specializes in personal injury cases , especially those involving trucking and auto accidents, and has recovered millions of dollars for our clients. Contact the Francis Firm today to schedule your consultation.