Punitive Damages for Victims of DUI Accidents

Punitive damages (also called exemplary damages) are damages intended to “punish” someone who is guilty of a tort. It is also to warn others not to engage in the same conduct.

These damages are fairly rare, and are awarded in only about 5% of all trials nationwide.

Punitive damages are different from compensatory damages. As the name suggests, it compensates a victim for injuries or damage.

For example, let’s say that you were involved in an accident with a drunk driver and you broke your arm. Your compensatorydamages would include your medical expenses, vehicular damages, lost wages, and pain and suffering. If this adds up to $65,000, that is the amount you will most likely be rewarded for compensatory damages.

However, a jury could also award  punitive damages in addition to compensatory damages. They may elect to do this to  to send the message that driving under the influence (DUI) isn’t acceptable.

For example, in one Florida case, a jury awarded $275 million in punitive damages against a drunk driver who ran a stop sign at 60 miles per hour and killed a 13-year-old girl riding in her grandparents’ car.

(However, just because a jury awards punitive damages, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the victim or the victim’s family will be able to collect the award.  The ability to collect will depend on the DUI driver’s assets and/or insurance.)

Arizona Public Policy against Drunk and Drugged Driving

The Arizona Supreme Court noted that Arizona has a “public policy of deterring drunk driving” and that

[w]hen a person … engages in behavior so egregious as to drive a motor vehicle in a drugged or drunken state, resulting in the death or injury of innocent people, he or she must recognize that the decision to drive in that condition may result in placing everything on the line, even if solely as a reminder to others so tempted.

An Arizona jury decides whether a drunk driving injury case merits punitive damages (This MUST be allowed). For example, in one Arizona case, the court said,

“If there is evidence that defendant drove while intoxicated, and that his intoxicated driving was a proximate cause of an accident and resulting injury, the jury decides whether the negligence was gross or wanton.”

In another Arizona Supreme Court case, the court held:

Whether a party who consciously consumes enough alcohol to raise her blood alcohol level to more than two and one-half times the legal limit and then drives a motor vehicle on public roads, has demonstrated conduct which shows an evil mind intending to interfere with the rights of others lawfully using the highway or disregarding the substantial risk that conduct poses of significant harm to others, is a question of fact for the jury.

However, just because you claim punitive damages as a DUI victim doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll get them.  The more outrageous the impaired driver’s conduct, the more likely a jury is to award punitive damages.

Who is liable for punitive damages?

The driver who was DUI isn’t necessarily the only party liable for punitive damages.  Under certain circumstances, the driver’s employer or the establishment that sold the liquor (or other intoxicant) to the driver may also be responsible.

Insurance and Punitive Damages

Under Arizona law, a drunk driver’s insurance may cover an award of punitive damages.

Getting More Information

Although punitive damages are a rare, a jury will more likely award them in DUI cases. This is due to the fact that society recognises the damage drunk and drug-impaired drivers cause to society

To learn more about DUI victims’ rights, please visit our DUI injuries page.


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