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Punitive Damages in Drunk Driving Accidents

When a drunk driver injures someone they will face criminal prosecution and penalties but they may also be held liable for civil charges. Those that were injured in the accident, or their representatives, can bring a civil suit against the drunk driver. Along with awards to compensate the injured for personal injuries, wrongful death or property damages, punitive damages may also be recovered.

Punitive damages are intended to serve as a deterrent when the defendant’s misconduct was sufficiently offensive. These damages are meant to punish the drunk driver and deter the driver and others from similar conduct in the future.

At Rosenbaum & Associates we believe it is important to send a message to drunk drivers that their conduct is unacceptable. Drinking and driving puts peoples lives at risk and we feel it is important fully prosecute these people. We want to keep the roads of Pennsylvania safe for everyone.

Pennsylvania courts award punitive damages for outrageous conduct. “Outrageous conduct” is defined as acts done with a bad motive or with a reckless indifference to the interests of others. If a defendant’s conduct is such that there is a high probability that serious harm will result to anyone who is within the range of the misconduct’s effect and the defendant knows, or has reason to know, that others are within that range, their conduct constitutes reckless indifference. Courts have found that this test encompasses drunk driving.

Driving while intoxicated, with its very great potential for harm and serious injury, may under certain circumstances be deemed ‘outrageous conduct’ and a reckless indifference to the interests of others sufficient to allow the imposition of punitive damages.

When the judge or jury is considering whether to impose punitive damages or how much the damages should be they can consider not only the actual accident but all the circumstances, including motive, relationship between the people involved, provocation and the driving history. Evidence of the driver’s blood alcohol concentration may also be considered. This could be from an actual blood alcohol test or testimony from police or eyewitnesses regarding indicators of intoxication such as slurred speech, impaired balance or belligerence. Experts may also provide testimony explaining the effect of the particular level of intoxication on the defendant’s ability to drive.

In certain factual circumstances the risk to others created by driving drunk may be so obvious and the probability that harm will occur so great that “outrageous conduct” may be established without reference to motive or intent. Therefore, depending on the circumstances evidence of drunk driving may be all that is necessary to impose punitive damages. For example, driving down a crowded road at excessive speeds while heavily intoxicated and causing an accident may warrant punitive damages more than driving at the speed limit in a sparsely populated area slightly above the legal limit.

If you have been hurt by a drunk driver in Pennsylvania or New Jersey contact one of our Philadelphia car accident attorneys to see how we can help you with your claim. Please call at (215) 569-0200 or contact us online for a free consultation.