Drunk driving and driving under the influence are serious matters, whether someone is injured as a result of it or not. In Arlington on Thursday August, 14th, a 24-year-old man pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter and driving while intoxicated after he ran a red light and collided with another vehicle, killing the driver. Under the plea agreement the man cannot be sentenced to more than 12 years in prison, even though the killer had nearly three dozen charges on his driving record, several relating to drunken driving, including a 2010 charge of driving under the influence that was pleaded down to reckless driving.
While the criminal justice system has its own way of dealing with drunk drivers, individuals who have been harmed, or those who have lost loved ones, often wonder what options are available to compensate them for their injuries. Under Virginia law, individuals can pursue not only compensatory damages, as they could against any driver, but also have greater ability to pursue punitive damages thanks to a Virginia statute. Generally, to obtain punitive damages, a person must show that the defendant’s actions were either intentional, or with willful and wanton negligence. Willful and wanton negligence is action taken either in conscious disregard for the rights of others or with reckless indifference to the consequences when the defendant is aware that his conduct probably would cause injury to another.
Punitive damages are often almost impossible to obtain in car accident cases, but because drunk driving has such serious consequences, Virginia enacted a specific law that makes it easier for individuals to recover punitive damages against drunk drivers. A defendant’s conduct is deemed sufficiently willful or wanton if:
- The defendant had a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.15 percent or more;
- The defendant knew or should have known that his ability to operate a motor vehicle would be impaired; and
- The defendant’s intoxication was a proximate cause of the injury or death of the plaintiff.
To show the defendant’s blood alcohol content, a plaintiff can submit a certificate issued pursuant to a Breathalyzer or blood test so long as it was tested within three hours of the accident. The defendant’s BAC will be presumed to have been at least as high as the test result. Depending on when the BAC test was administered, a person can still show that punitive damages are warranted even when the certificate shows a BAC less than 0.15 through expert testimony.
Drunk driving can have very serious consequences and it’s important to have attorneys on your side who are going to fight to get you the compensation you deserve. The car accident lawyers at Chaikin, Sherman, Cammarata, & Siegel, P.C. have represented countless individuals in actions against drunk drivers. If you or someone you love has been hurt as a result of such reckless behavior, please call the lawyers at Chaikin, Sherman, Cammarata, & Siegel, P.C. for a free consultation.