In Virginia, is it possible to recover money from a drunk driver above the amount ordinarily allowed in a personal injury case?

Injured by Drunk driver Virginia Beach

The below information was written by our personal injury lawyers in Virginia Beach.

Under certain circumstances, a plaintiff in a personal injury case can recover punitive damages against a drunk driver in addition to the ordinary compensatory damages a plaintiff is entitled to from a negligent driver (please click here for a discussion of the ordinary compensatory damages that a plaintiff is entitled to in a personal injury case). Punitive damages are a reward of money to a plaintiff above the plaintiff’s compensatory damages and are designed to punish the defendant for his or her egregious actions and to serve as an example to prevent others from acting in a similar way.

In personal injury cases arising from car accidents, a plaintiff can make a successful claim for punitive damages against a drunk driver by either showing that the drunk driver’s conduct satisfied the requirements of the applicable Virginia Code section or by showing that the conduct of the drunk driver was malicious or so wrongful as to constitute willful or wanton conduct evidencing a conscious disregard of the rights of others. According to our personal injury lawyers in Virginia Beach, to make a claim for punitive damages against a drunk driver under the applicable Virginia Code section, the personal injury plaintiff must prove the following:

(1) that when the accident causing the injury occurred, the drunk driver had a blood alcohol content of 0.15% or more by weight by volume; and

(2) that at the time the drunk driver began drinking alcohol, or during the time he or she was drinking alcohol, he or she know or should have known that his or her ability to operate a motor vehicle would be impaired, or when he or she was operating a motor vehicle he or she knew or should have know that his or her ability to operate a motor vehicle was impaired; and

(3) that the drunk driver’s intoxication was a proximate cause of the plaintiff’s injuries.

In cases where the drunk driver unlawfully refuses to submit to a test of his or her blood alcohol content, the personal injury plaintiff can make a claim for punitive damages under the applicable Virginia Code section by proving the following:

(1) that when the accident causing the injury occurred, the drunk driver was intoxicated and unreasonably refused to submit to a test of his or her blood alcohol content; and

(2) that at the time the drunk driver began drinking alcohol, or during the time he or she was drinking alcohol, he or she knew or should have known that his or her ability to operate a motor vehicle was impaired; and

(3) that the drunk driver’s intoxication was a proximate cause of the plaintiff’s injuries.

If a plaintiff is injured due an accident caused by a drunk driver but the circumstances of the accident do not satisfy the elements of the Virginia Code described above, the personal injury plaintiff can make a successful claim for punitive damages against a drunk driver by showing that the conduct of the drunk driver was malicious or so wrongful as to constitute willful or wanton conduct evidencing a conscious disregard of the rights of others. This is known as a common law claim for punitive damages. The Virginia Supreme Court has issued numerous opinions defining what conduct by a drunk driver is necessary for a common law punitive damages claim, and the analysis of such a claim is very fact specific. However, it can be said that the consumption of alcohol by a person responsible for an automobile accident does not satisfy the Virginia Supreme Court’s requirements for a common law punitive damages claim, absent egregious circumstances demonstrating a conscious disregard for the rights of others.

Whether an accident caused by a drunk driver will merit a punitive damages claim is specific to the facts of the individual case. An experienced personal injury lawyer should be consulted regarding the handling of a personal injury claim by a person injured in an automobile accident caused be a drunk driver.

Waiting can hurt your case. To find out how our personal injury lawyers in Virginia Beach can help you, please contact us at (757) 486-2700.

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