When an intoxicated person gets behind the wheel of a car, that can pose an extremely hazardous risk to the lives and wellbeing of other motorists and pedestrians. As you may know, the statistics on New York drunk driving accidents are shocking. According to the New York State Police, drunk drivers cause more than 17,000 deaths annually, and 30% of fatal crashes involve alcohol. For these reasons and more, people injured by drunk drivers can also potentially claim “punitive damages” in addition to other damages. Punitive damages, if warranted by the facts, serve a different role than traditional compensatory damages.
Under certain conditions, punitive damages may be awarded to car accident victims in addition to other damages, such as compensation for pain and suffering. The purpose of punitive damages extends beyond compensating the injured victim. Rather, punitive damages also aim to discipline and deter the wrongdoer and potentially others from engaging in the type of behavior that gave rise to the incident.
Therefore, punitive damages serve to punish. This punishment may act as a specific deterrent to the defendant and a general deterrent to the rest of society. Punitive damages are “exemplary,” meaning that they can only be awarded in cases where the defendant’s behavior is considered especially harmful.
Generally speaking, an injured person may claim punitive damages where the defendant’s culpable behavior is deemed to have presented an utter disregard for the safety of others.
Accordingly, punitive damages may be awarded in some cases where individuals are injured by drunk drivers, especially where other aggravating circumstances—such as the level of intoxication or prior offenses, are present. Certain circumstances may push the driver’s conduct of driving while intoxicated—an unlawful and potentially harmful activity in itself—into an even more blameworthy category of wrongdoing, one that reflects an utter disregard for the safety of others.
In New York, courts may consider various factors while determining whether a drunk driver’s conduct rises to the level of blatant disregard for others’ safety. They may consider, for instance, whether the defendant was “excessively” drunk when the accident occurred. While there may be no standard blood alcohol level that signifies excessive intoxication for the purpose of awarding punitive damages, courts may infer such intoxication based on the totality of the circumstances, including the blood alcohol level. Someone may reach this level of intoxication, for example, if they “blacked out” behind the wheel or have little to no recollection of the events that transpired while intoxicated. As observed by one court: in past cases “punitive damages were properly imposed where the driver was excessively drunk or was a repeat offender.”
If you were injured in a car accident involving a drunk driver, you may be entitled to punitive damages in addition to compensation for pain and suffering. If you have questions about your recovery options, don’t hesitate to contact an experienced motor vehicle accident attorney at William Mattar, P.C. today. Call (844) 444-4444.