Drunk driving accidents are probably the worst kind of accidents. A drunk driving accident tends to be more deadly than the usual car accident, and it is particularly preventable – if only the wrongdoer wouldn’t get behind the wheel of a car while intoxicated. How, then, do different jurisdictions in this area treat drunk drivers who are sued by the people that they hurt?
Virginia– Virginia takes drunk driving the most seriously. In a car accident lawsuit, the victim is entitled to an award of money that equals the level of his or her harm (e.g., medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering). These are called compensatory damages. However, in very limited circumstances, a victim may also recover punitive damages – an award of money that is intended to punish the wrongdoer. In Virginia, the victim is automatically entitled to an award of punitive damages if the wrongdoer was driving drunk with a blood alcohol level of at least 0.15. And, even with a lower blood alcohol level, the wrongdoer may still recover punitive damages if the victim can show that the wrongdoer was so intoxicated that his or her decision to drive on the road was reckless and in wanton disregard of the victim’s rights.
Maryland – Maryland takes the opposite approach, unfortunately. In Maryland, the victim is never entitled to an award of punitive damages on the basis that the wrongdoer was driving drunk. Maryland only allows an award of punitive damages when the wrongdoer intentionally hurts the victim.
Washington, DC – Finally, there’s D.C. The high court of the District has not yet answered whether a drunk driving victim is entitled to punitive damages. We believe the answer should be “yes,” because in general, any person who is hurt by wrongful conduct that qualifies as “reckless” is entitled to punitive damages, and drunk driving is surely reckless conduct. However, we continue to fight that issue in lawsuits that we file in D.C., time and again.
If you have been injured by a drunk driver and you have questions about the compensation you can recover, you should contact the car accident attorneys at Chaikin, Sherman, Cammarata & Siegel, P.C., for a free consultation. We represent victims and families throughout the DC Metropolitan area.