In our work, we sometimes help clients who have been injured in auto accidents caused by drunk drivers. How a DUI can affect the value of a D.C. auto accident case is an interesting and controversial issue.
Everyone agrees, of course, that if a driver was DUI at the time of an auto accident, that this is strong evidence that the accident was the drunk driver’s fault. But what if the driver admits that the accident was his or her fault – does the DUI still play any role in a lawsuit, then?
The answer depends upon whether D.C. law authorizes an award of “punitive damages” in DUI auto accident lawsuits. The usual kind of damages awarded in a D.C. auto accident lawsuit are “compensatory damages,” meaning an award that is intended to compensate the victim for all losses. “Punitive damages,” on the other hand, are an extra award that is intended to punish the wrongdoer.
In Maryland, punitive damages cannot be awarded for drunk driving. In Virginia, the opposite is true. Where does D.C. fall? The answer is not settled. But under District law, punitive damages can be awarded when a person causes an accident through “reckless disregard” of the rights of other people – in other words, where the wrongdoer knows that he or she is doing something to put other people at risk, but does it anyway. Although D.C. courts have not definitively resolved this issue, we believe that “reckless disregard” clearly describes drunk driving, and so in D.C. auto accident cases involving a DUI we can seek punitive damages for our clients.
If you have been injured by a drunk driver and need legal advice, you should contact the personal injury attorneys at Chaikin, Sherman, Cammarata & Siegel, P.C., for a free consultation.