Punitive Damages for Drunk/Intoxicated and Distracted Drivers in Motor Vehicle Wrecks

You were in a bad car wreck and you have been seriously injured. The accident was caused by someone who was not completely focused at the wheel. The offending driver’s insurance company is now calling, wanting to quickly adjust your motor vehicle accident claim. You do not know what your rights are regarding the recovery of medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering, punitive damages, etc. What do you do? The smart course is to keep the insurance company at bay to ensure your right to adequate compensation is preserved. You should call a personal injury attorney who is an expert in this area of the law – someone who understands both the civil and the criminal aspects of DUI car wrecks and/or texting and driving car accidents. The Dow Firm, P.C.’s principal, O.C.G.A. § 40-6-391 it is against the law for anyone to drive a motor vehicle (car, motorcycle, boat, tractor-trailer, etc.) under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Besides alcohol (beer, wine and liquor), prohibited substances which cause DUI include, but are not limited to, methamphetamine, cocaine, marijuana, glue, aerosol or other toxic vapor. This roadway rule is based upon the reasonable assumption ingesting any of these substances and getting behind the wheel of an automobile renders a person a less safe driver.

Contact The Dow Firm, P.C. today for a free consultation or call (912) 264-1919.

Many serious injuries and wrongful deaths arise from people operating motor vehicles while impaired. Driving while intoxicated is conduct so dangerous that Georgia’s legislature has specifically passed a civil law against driving under the influence which works in tandem with the statute that makes DUI a criminal offense.

In instances where a person is injured by a DUI driver (under the effects of alcohol, prescription drugs or illegal drugs), unlimited punitive damages can be assessed against the motor vehicle operator who causes the wreck. In pertinent part, O.C.G.A. § 51-12-5.1 states, “In a tort case . . . if it is found . . . that [an impaired driver] acted or failed to act while under the influence of alcohol [or] drugs . . . there shall be no limitation regarding the amount that may be awarded as punitive damages . . .” This is noteworthy because under Georgia law there is usually a maximum cap of $250,000.00 on exemplary damages (punitive damages) which can be awarded against a bad actor in other (non-DUI) types of cases.

If a person has been injured by a DUI driver, in addition to a claim for general damages (physical and mental pain and suffering) and special damages (medical expenses, lost earnings, vehicle repair costs, etc.), a claim will exist for punitive damages. Under the Georgia civil code, that claim may have no dollar limit placed upon it. Simply stated, drunk and intoxicated driving cases involve serious offenses which carry substantial dollar exposure for the offending DUI driver. Similarly, if a wrongful death arises from the reckless driving and acts of a drunk or intoxicated driver and the person who suffered a wrongful death experiences conscious pain and suffering before death, punitive damages may be awarded against the DUI driver in a wrongful death lawsuit.

All DUI wrecks (injuries and fatalities) involve various technical considerations (such as sobriety testing, toxicology, blood alcohol content, accident reconstruction and the bisection of criminal and civil law) and are significantly more valueable than some other types of non-DUI auto accidents. Insurance companies know this to be true and an accident lawyer knowledgeable about these matters (who the insurance company will respect and pay adequate compensation to for the client) is essential. For that reason, wrecks involving cars, 18-wheelers, motorcycles and boats with DUI drivers should be handled by a law firm, like The Dow Firm, P.C., which is experienced in the investigation and resolution of these complicated matters. A proper personal injury attorney should supply representation in these types of cases, otherwise a client’s motor vehicle accident case can result in an inadequate settlement.

Contact The Dow Firm, P.C. today for a free consultation or call (912) 264-1919.

While and “accident attorney” is key in these types of cases, it is important to remember that drunk driving accidents are actually not considered “accidents” in the eyes of Georgia law. This is so because our state takes into account the fact that a drunk driver chooses – before the wreck – to drink and get intoxicated. With this pre-intoxication knowledge imputed to the ultimately drunk driver, the law assumes the negligent driver assumed the risk of causing innocent parties (passengers, other motorists, bicyclists and pedestrians) serious economic/compensatory damages in the form of medical bills, lost wages and property damages as well as non-economic/general damages like permanent disfigurement, emotional distress, physical injury, etc.

While impaired drivers and drunk drivers pose a significant threat for causing auto accidents, a phenomenon has developed in recent years involving drivers who are less safe, not necessarily because they are intoxicated drivers, but due to distraction. With the invention and proliferation of communication technology (cell phones and digital tablets), widespread hazards have been created which affect all motorists at all hours of the day. Like DUI drivers, distracted drivers pose a threat to everyone on the roadway. However, what is particularly worrisome about distracted driving is that it is more prevalent than drunk driving.

In the past, there were certain hours (between 10 p.m. at night and 3 a.m. in the morning) when there was an increased risk of driving due to the presence of motorists operating vehicles after a night of partying. That has changed because virtually everyone who has a motor vehicle also has a cellular telephone. This means that there is a higher incidence of people on the road who are possessed of technology which can distract a driver. Now, driving at any hour of the day can be a safety gamble. Whereas head-on collisions often occur in the context of drunk drivers leaving their lane around midnight, this same fatal wreck can happen in the middle of the day without any chemical substance involved because a person is texting and driving. Unfortunately for the innocent victim hit head-on, the damage consequence is the same. In fatal car accidents, vehicles do not distinguish between drunk driving and distracted driving. To be clear, a negligent driver texting and driving is considered just as dangerous as a drunk driver with a blood alcohol content with a concentration over .08 grams.

The State of Georgia has progressively taken steps to address the epidemic of distracted driving. In 2010, the legislature passed the state’s first statutes limiting the legality of the use of cell phones and wireless communication devices behind the wheel. These laws were subsequently modified in 2015. Now, effective July 1, 2018, under O.C.G.A. § 40-6-241 it is illegal for a driver to even hold a cell phone, much less use one to make a call, read or author a text, watch a video or record a video, while operating a motor vehicle. In essence, Georgia has taken a strict no-use policy as to cell phones in order to address the risk of danger associated with distracted driving accidents/motor vehicle accidents caused by people who are texting while driving.

Unfortunately, as everyone knows laws will always be broken. For that reason, The Dow Firm, P.C. is ready to prosecute auto accident personal injury and wrongful death claims for distracted driving in violation of O.C.G.A. § 40-6-241 as well as DUI under O.C.G.A. § 40-6-391. And as it pertains to punitive damages, it is likely that certain offenses involving distracted driving – now that an express law is in place – will give rise to serious exemplary damages exposure for offending drivers who cause wrecks while on their cellular phones. The Dow Firm, P.C. has a demonstrated history of success in handling texting and driving matters along with drunk driving and intoxicated driving matters, having obtained significant compensation for victims through excess verdicts and large settlements in such cases over the last two decades.

The Dow Firm, P.C. is focused on investigation and prosecution in auto accidents.

Contact The Dow Firm, P.C. today for a free consultation or call (912) 264-1919.

The Dow Firm, P.C. is proud to represent clients with DUI and driving-related claims in Glynn County (Brunswick, Country Club Estate, Dock Junction, Everitt, Jekyll Island, Sea Island, Sterling, St. Simons Island and Thalman), Brantley County (Atkinson, Hickox, Hoboken, Hortense, Lulaton, Nahunta, Trudie and Waynesville), Camden County (Colesburg, Dover Bluff, Harrietts Bluff, Kings Bay Base, Kingsland, St. Marys, Tarboro, Waverly, White Oak and Woodbine), Wayne County (Jesup, Odum and Screven), McIntosh County (Cox, Crescent, Darien, Eulonia, Pine Harbour, Ridgeville, Shellman Bluff, South Newport, Townsend and Valona), Pierce County (Blackshear, Bristol, Mershon, Offerman and Patterson), Chatham County (Bloomingdale, Garden City, Georgetown, Isle of Hope-Dutch Island, Montgomery, Port Wentworth, Pooler, Savannah, Skidaway Island, Thunderbolt, Tybee Island, Whitmarsh Island, Wilmington Island and Vernonburg) and counties throughout the state of Georgia.

The Dow Firm, P.C. is located in Brunswick, GA, however, our firm investigates wrongful death claims and DUI-related injury cases throughout Georgia.