Punitive Damages from an Auto Accident Involving a Drunk Driver

August 13, 2012

Auto Accidents

Ohio drunk driver accidentUnder Ohio law if a drunk driver is responsible for an auto accident in which another individual is injured, the impaired driver could be forced to pay “punitive” damages  to the injured motorist in addition to damages for medical bills, lost wages, emotional distress and other harm resulting from the auto accident.

Punitive damages are those designed to punish a wrongdoer for malicious or reckless behavior.  The punitive damage award can be greater than the award for other damages.  Punitive damages are also imposed to protect the public and warn others that committing a like offense could result in the same or a similar penalty.  The courts currently use the standard that the defendant’s actions have “great possibility of causing substantial harm” in determining whether a person’s conduct warrants an award of punitive damages (Reference Ohio Revised Code (ORC) 2315.21).

Punitive damages could be sought in a wrongful death claim if the drunk driver’s conduct results in someone’s death and a survivor sues.  A case with a driver shown to be intoxicated at the time of the accident will more than likely be valued more than a similar case without an impaired driver.

In a drunk driving accident, one of the best ways to “prove” punitive damages (the driver was reckless enough to drink and drive) is to obtain the other driver’s Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC).  To obtain this information, the injured party or his representative should contact the police officer or investigator handling the case or the prosecutor reviewing the auto accident for possible criminal charges.  This information may also be useful if charges are being considered against a bar, nightclub or other establishment where alcohol was served to the driver.  Ohio law makes it illegal to serve someone who is already intoxicated.

There is a two-year statute of limitations in filing a lawsuit against a drunk driver for a case involving injury or death.  Compensatory damages such as medical expenses,  lost wages (both current and estimated future lost earning capacity), and emotional distress, are covered by a standard vehicle insurance policy, but punitive damage awards generally are not covered.

The jury must find by clear and convincing evidence that the defendant’s acts or failure to act “demonstrated malice, aggravated, or egregious fraud, oppression or insult” or that the defendant has acted or failed to act in the capacity of an employer, employee, principal or agent (ORC 2315.21).

In Ohio, when a tort action is tried to a jury, in the initial stages of trial, a plaintiff must make a claim for compensatory damages along with a claim for punitive damages.  The trial will be “bifurcated” (split into two stages) with the initial stage of the trial relating to the presentation of evidence and a determination by the jury as to whether the plaintiff is entitled to recover compensatory damages for injury or loss to person or property. If the jury determines the plaintiff is entitled to recover compensatory damages, evidence is presented in the second stage of the trial concerning the award of punitive damages.

In Ohio, the court will not award punitive damages in excess of two times the amount of compensatory damages awarded to the plaintiff (ORC 2315.21 (D)(2)(a)).  There are also special provisions in the code for lesser awards when the defendant is a small employer, for example.  Prejudgment interest and lawyer’s fees are not part of any punitive award.

If you have been injured due to the negligence or actions of another, you deserve compensation for your losses. While nothing can replace the loss you have suffered, a civil remedy can help offset some of the resulting financial difficulties you may face.

Do not hesitate to contact the Ohio lawyers at Slater & Zurz LLP who are experienced in handling auto accident cases involving drunk drivers. For a free consultation, call 1-800-297-9191 or send a Blog Message from our website at www.slaterzurz.com to schedule a time to talk.

To learn more about car accidents, truck accidents, motorcycle accidents and other types of accidents in Ohio, please visit slaterzurz.com.

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About slaterzurz

Slater & Zurz LLP is an Ohio law firm of highly experienced and respected attorneys. Over the last 40 years, we have developed a reputation for getting positive results for clients. We've been trusted with handling over 20,000 personal injury cases and our clients have received more than $120,000,000.

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4 Comments on “Punitive Damages from an Auto Accident Involving a Drunk Driver”

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