Can You Recover Punitive Damages If Hurt By A Drunk Driver

Drunken driver being arrested after car crash

Drunk Driving & “Recklessness”

In Florida, an individual injured by a drunk driver may be allowed by court to pursue punitive damages against the drunk driver. This post explores the nature of punitive damages, and the ways in which they may be recovered in Florida drunk driving-related personal injury lawsuits.

When another person has committed a wrongful act against you that has resulted in injuries, you may able to recover damages from them in a court of law. The wrongful act, or in some instances a failure to act when action was required, is termed a “tort” by the law.

The damages merited by the wrongful conduct are measured in terms of money. While money alone cannot balance out the injuries, whether physical or emotional, one has suffered, it is the best measure we have. Common types of damages are compensatory damages intended to restore one to the position he or she was in prior to the wrongful act of another. In the personal injury context, this category of damages may include the cost of present and future medical treatment for injuries suffered, lost income and opportunities due to missed work while recovering from injuries suffered, and the pain & suffering caused by the event in which the injuries were sustained. For especially egregious wrongful acts, the law sometimes allows for an award of an additional category: punitive damages.

Punitive Damages Are About Punishment

The word punitive means “serving for, concerned with, or inflicting punishment.” In the paragraph above, the focus of the damages listed was on the victim. Punitive damages, as the definition of the word punitive suggests, are different. When imposed, they are directed at the wrongdoer. While the damages are expressed in a financial figure and awarded to the victim, the intent behind their imposition is to punish the wrongdoer rather than to heal the victim.

Punitive Damages May Be Available In A Civil Lawsuit

When punitive damages are possible, it is in the civil, rather than criminal, justice system. This is interesting because punishment is traditionally the concern and domain of the criminal justice system. In this way, punitive damages bridge the gap between the two systems. Such an invocation of philosophies that are rooted in criminal justice requires that the act in question be severe in its wrongness. In legal terms, words that express this egregious conduct include, “gross,” “flagrant,” reckless disregard,” “conscious indifference,” and “intentional violation.”

If You Are Injured By A Drunk Driver In The State of Florida, You May Be Entitled To Punitive Damages

In Florida, drunk driving resulting in injury or death reaches the level of egregiousness meriting punitive damages. Everyone knows not to drink and drive. We are warned not to every day on billboards and television, and informed of the serious consequences of doing so. To get behind the wheel of a heavy, fast moving object with impaired faculties endangers not only the driver, but everyone in the vicinity of the driver’s vehicle. When you factor in the amount of ground a vehicle covers and the number of persons present in that area, the serious problem posed by drunk driving quickly becomes clear. As such, society has a strong interested in preventing the behavior of drunk driving, and in punishing those who defy society’s warnings, and injure others while doing so. In the eyes of the law, the act itself does all the talking. Specifically, Florida law holds that the voluntary act of driving while intoxicated is indicative of an attitude sufficiently reckless to allow to a jury to award punitive damages.

Four Bases For Awarding Punitive Damages in Florida

In Florida, punitive damages for injuries caused by drunk driving are available if a majority of evidence finds one of the following:

1) The conduct causing injury was so flagrant as to amount to a reckless disregard of human life or of the safety of persons exposed to the impact of such conduct. Here, the conduct is driving while intoxicated, and the human life or safety of persons is question is everyone in or near the flow of traffic containing the vehicle being driven by an intoxicated individual.

2) The conduct reflected such an absence of care that the person must have been consciously indifferent to the consequences. Here, the language speaks to apathy of cold-heartedness – of not even caring about the possible ramifications of driving while intoxicated.

3) The conduct reflected a complete absence of care that the person must have wantonly or recklessly disregarded public safety and welfare. This conduct rises above indifference into the realm of recklessness, implying a degree of consciousness.

4) The conduct reflected such reckless indifference to public safety and welfare as to amount to an intentional endangering. This shocking conduct involves actual intent to drive while intoxicated – clearly a flagrant violation of laws prohibiting drunk driving.

What To Do If You Have Been Injured By A Drunk Driver In The State Of Florida

If you have been injured by a drunk driver in the state of Florida, it is imperative that you contact an experienced Florida personal injury lawyer. An experienced attorney will work to obtain the financial compensation you need and deserve in the wake of injuries suffered due to the wrongful conduct of another, and hold the drunk driver accountable for his or her reckless, wrongful conduct. You may be entitled to punitive damages, in addition to damages for the cost of medical treatment, lost income and opportunities, pain and suffering, and other losses.

The state of Florida limits the window of time in which a lawsuit may be filed, so it is important that you do not delay. Prior to the resolution of a trial, a court will determine if you have the right to pursue punitive damages. Award of even the right to pursue punitive damages can motivate a defendant to settle, as punitive damage awards can be very costly. Reach out to a skilled Florida personal injury attorney today and begin the process recovering compensation for injuries and holding accountable the party or parties responsible.