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Should You Pursue Punitive Damages Against the Drunk Driver in Your Wreck?

April 2, 2020

It’s pretty normal for someone to want the drunk driver who hit them to pay for as much as possible. Not only should you get compensation for the damage to your car, the medical bills, and your time lost at work. You should do battle for damages that aren’t so easy to identify: your mental trauma, new anxieties, and other elements of frustration and anguish. 

Then, you happen to hear about punitive damages. Well, many people initially wonder; how can I get punitive damages after a drunk driver hits me. These damages are complex and not always as easy to achieve as people make it seem. Drunk drivers should be penalized, and you can accomplish that in different ways, one of those ways is through punitive damages. 

What Are Punitive Damages?

Punitive damages are a penalty that drunk drivers may be forced to pay to the victims through a civil suit. This penalty is similar to restitution that would be awarded to the victim in a criminal case. Judges use this penalty in a way that should cause a financial impact upon them in a way to dissuade future behavior. 

Now, judges take different views on punitive damages. Some come in heavy-handed for first-timers. Others will hand out heavier penalties through punitive damages based on the damage they did, or when there are repeated instances of a DUI. The struggle is that you’re looking at what happened to you and your family, and the judge is looking at the driver’s behaviors. 

Are You Likely to Receive Them in a Settlement?

Punitive damages are not something that you should expect in a settlement. Not only will you have to assert that you want punitive damages, but you’ll need to take the case to court.

South Carolina requires that the complainant specifically cite that they want punitive damages, but they cannot argue a certain amount. 

There are no caps on punitive damages. It is entirely up to the judge handling the case to determine. It’s something that they’ll think over carefully and look at the extent of the damage. To give a comparison example, you may not see much in the way of punitive damages if this was the person’s first DUI, their first wreck, and the damage was minimal. Now, it would be very different if this was an ongoing issue on their record, and it resulted in severe injuries or loss of life. 

So while you’re not likely to receive punitive damages in a settlement, it is worth seeking these damages in a court. Drunk driving victims will often take their cases to court with the possibility of punitive damages, and other benefits. But always make sure that you dive into the options of why you should take a case forward rather than accepting a settlement. 

Will You Need to Go to Court to Get Punitive Damages?

Technically a punitive damage award is an order from a judge. That means that you need to file a formal claim as a complainant, and the defendant would go through and hopefully receive the punitive damage order. This order goes beyond the basic compensation demand that includes bodily injury or property damage. 

It’s important to emphasize that the damages aren’t to award you for anything. It is exclusively to deter the driver from drunk driving again. This only happens in cases that seem intentional or exceptionally negligent. On that front, you’ll need to argue that what happened to you shouldn’t also happen to someone else. 

Your attorney might argue that these weren’t simple misdeeds but were part of an ongoing issue or pattern of behavior. The goal is that the sum being paid to the victims will have a big enough impact, but often it’s the insurance company that ends up paying. 

Should You Talk This Through with Columbia Car Accident Lawyers First?

Working with accident lawyers in Columbia, SC is often necessary in drunk driving cases. The Insurance company involved may not be willing or exactly thrilled to make a payout in a drunk driving crash. All the same, it was their client who hit you after they had been out drinking. You not only deserve all the possible compensation, but punitive damages should fall to the driver as a penalty. 

After a drunk driving wreck in Columbia, SC, you need an attorney to represent your needs as a victim. Get in contact with the people who can actually help you build a case and take this claim to court at the Connell Law Firm.