By: Matthew Tievsky
In our work, we sometimes help clients who have been injured in auto accidents
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.