Punitive Damages in Drunk Driving Collisions
Drunk drivers cause untold damage on Ohio’s roads each year. According to Ohio State Highway Patrol statistics for 2017, impaired drivers accounted for 379 fatal crashes that caused a total of 405 fatalities. These numbers are in line with previous years, going back to 2013, with each year registering at least 350 fatalities linked to impaired drivers.
If you have been injured by a drunk driver, help is available. Not only can you receive damages to pay medical bills and replace lost wages, but you might also qualify for punitive damages to hold the defendant accountable for his conduct.
Compensatory versus Punitive Damages
After a car accident, injured motorists can seek compensation for their physical and emotional injuries. This sum of money, called compensatory damages, is meant to put you in the position you would be in had you never been involved in an accident. The entire purpose of compensatory damages is to make you “whole.”
Punitive damages are different. Instead of compensating the victim, they are meant to punish the defendant for sufficiently egregious conduct. By levying punitive damages against a defendant, the court hopes to deter future bad conduct, from the defendant and from the public at large.
In Ohio, you can receive punitive damages if you can show by clear and convincing evidence that the defendant acted with malice or egregious fraud, or that they participated or ratified such conduct. Driving while drunk typically qualifies. If you receive punitive damages, you keep them in addition to your compensatory damages.
Punitive Damage Caps
Ohio has capped the total amount of punitive damages you can receive in a lawsuit. Generally, you cannot receive more than twice your compensatory damages. For example, if you were awarded $40,000 in compensatory damages, then you can receive a maximum of $80,000 in punitive damages. In total, you can receive $120,000.
There is also an absolute ceiling of $350,000. You cannot receive more than this, even if two times your compensatory damages exceeds this amount. For example, you might have suffered $200,000 in compensatory damages. Unfortunately, twice this amount is $400,000, which is above the cap, so the maximum you can receive is $350,000.
Proving Punitive Damages at Trial
An injured motorist should include a request for punitive damages in her initial pleadings with the court. This will put the defendant on notice that she is seeking to hold him responsible for more than compensatory damages.
The plaintiff’s trial will be split (called “bifurcated”). In the first trial, the jury will decide whether the defendant should pay compensatory damages and how much. In the second trial, the jury will be asked whether it wants to assess punitive damages.
Contact a Toledo Car Accident Lawyer
Punitive damages are wholly appropriate when a drunk driver plows into an unsuspecting motorist or pedestrian and causes injury. At Lafferty, Gallagher & Scott, we will seek all available compensation for our clients, including claims for punitive damages. Our attorneys are skilled at persuading juries that a defendant’s conduct was sufficiently egregious to warrant punishment. To schedule a free consultation, please call 419-241-5500. Avoid delay.