Drunk Driving Accidents
ALEXANDRIA, FREDERICKSBURG, WOODBRIDGE, AND MANASSAS
According to Mothers Against Drunk Drivers, in the United States, there is one drunk driving fatal car accident every forty-five minutes. Every one minute a drunk driver causes personal injury to someone. Every time a drunk driver gets behind the wheel, we, our children, our loved ones and our neighbors are at risk.
John was seriously injured by a Fairfax, Virginia drunk driving accident. He was admitted to Fairfax Hospital for ten days with serious injuries. The drunk driver's blood alcohol level was 0.16, two times the legal limit. Together, you as the victim of a drunk driver, and we as your lawyer, can do something to stop drunk drivers by holding them accountable for punitive damages. Punitive Damages, also called "exemplary damages," serve to punish the drunk driver for his conduct and to deter the drunk driver and others from getting behind the wheel drunk again.
In an effort to deter Virginia drunk driving accidents, the Virginia legislature enacted what is called "statutory punitive damages" (Virginia Code §8.01-44.5). This law allows victims of drunk drivers to hold the drunk driver accountable for punitive damages by showing that the drunk driver's conduct was willful and wanton -- a conscious disregard for the rights of others.
Brenda was seriously injured in a Manassas drunk driving car accident on Sudley Road. She was rushed from the scene to Prince William Hospital. The drunk driver had a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.15. Brenda sued the drunk driver for punitive damages to punish him and to set an example to keep drunk drivers off the road.
Virginia "statutory punitive damages" gives the jury the power to hold a drunk driver accountable for punitive damages payable to the person injured, or to the family of the loved one the drunk driver killed, if the victim proves the following three elements:
- The drunk driver had a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.15 (0.08 is legally drunk);
- The drunk driver, knew, or should have known, when he was drinking or when he was driving a motor vehicle, that his ability to drive would be or was impaired; and
- The drunk driver's intoxication was a legal cause of the personal injury or wrongful death to the victim.
One of the three requirements for "statutory punitive damages" is proof that the drunk driver's blood alcohol content was at least 0.15%. What if the drunk driver is savvy and refuses to submit to a blood alcohol test? Does this defeat the victim's punitive damage claim? No.
Because the public outcry against Virginia drunk driving fatal car accidents was so strong, the legislature amended the law to empower a jury to hold a drunk driver accountable for punitive damages when there is no blood alcohol evidence available - if the drunk driver unreasonably refused to submit to a blood alcohol test. In this situation, the victim must prove the following to allow the jury to award punitive damages:
- The drunk driver was intoxicated at the time of the crash and unreasonably refused to submit to a test of his blood alcohol content;
- At the time the drunk driver was drinking alcohol, he knew, or should have known, that his ability to drive a motor vehicle was impaired; and
- The drunk driver's intoxication was a legal cause of the personal injury or the accidental, wrongful death to the victim.
Are Virginia DUI accident victims allowed to bring a punitive damage claim against a drunk driver if his BAC at the time of the crash was less than the statutory required 0.15%?
The answer is yes. The Supreme Court of Virginia (in the case of Webb v. Rivers, 256 Va. 460, 507 S.E.2d 360 (1998)) held that even though the victim of a Virginia DUI accident failed to prove all three of the elements of a "statutory punitive damage" claim, the victim was still allowed to bring a "common law punitive damage" claim by showing the drunk driver's conduct was willful and wanton. Virginia judges often require proof that the drunk driver's conduct was especially offensive before allowing a jury to consider awarding "common law punitive damages."
Robert Young, a 32 year old father of three young boys, was needlessly killed in a Fairfax fatal drunk driving car accident. The drunk driver blew a 0.16 blood alcohol level when tested with a breathalyzer.
As a Virginia drunk driving accident victim's attorney, we see too often the devastating effects of alcohol related drunk driving fatal car crashes, like what happened to Robert. A family's life is never the same -- all caused by someone who got behind the wheel drunk. Feelings of outrage, sadness and anger overwhelm family members because of this preventable, accidental death. Virginia law gives the victim's family the right to bring a wrongful death claim against the drunk driver to hold him responsible. The law provides compensation for the families' loss. In cases of willful and wanton conduct, punitive damages may be awarded against the drunk driver. To learn more about a Wrongful Death lawsuit, click here.
Gerald Schwartz is a Virginia Drunk Driving Accident Victim's Attorney with 30 years experience suing drunk drivers. Gerald Schwartz aggressively sues drunk drivers all across Northern Virginia from Fairfax to Manassas to Fredericksburg. The Virginia Trial Lawyers Association has often asked him to teach other lawyers how to maximize recovery in Virginia drunk driving car accident cases.
It is everyone's responsibility to keep drunk drivers off of the road. As a law firm representing the victims of drunk drivers, we can do our part by fighting aggressively to punish the drunk driver and to set an example to deter others from getting behind the wheel drunk.
For a free consultation to learn if you can sue a drunk driver for punitive damages, call Gerald Schwartz at 1-800-423-0055.