The winter holidays are a busy time for Americans, from Christmas shopping to end-of-year social events with family and friends— even with the Covid-19 pandemic discouraging many from socializing in the same way that they would in previous years.
Unfortunately, not all news surrounding the holidays is positive. With the winter holidays (and an increase in road traffic) comes an increase in motor vehicle accidents, in many cases driven by holiday alcohol consumption.
If you’ve been injured by a drunk driver over the holidays, then you may be entitled to significant damages as compensation. In fact, bringing a motor vehicle lawsuit against a drunk driver has its own unique opportunities — let’s go ahead and briefly explore them.
In a “standard” motor vehicle accident dispute, the injured plaintiff has to prove that the defendant-driver acted negligently, recklessly, or intentionally — and that this misconduct caused the plaintiff to suffer injuries. Establishing fault can be difficult in some cases, depending on the facts.
In a drunk driving lawsuit, by contrast, the plaintiff need only show that the defendant’s intoxication caused the plaintiff to suffer injuries. Negligence is “assumed” thanks to a principle known as negligence per se.
In other words, driving while under the influence of alcohol is considered an act that is fundamentally “wrong,” and as such, there is no need to prove that the defendant’s conduct rose to the level of negligence, recklessness, or intentional misconduct. This can make it substantially easier for the plaintiff to bring a successful lawsuit against the defendant, and may even lead to a favorable early settlement.
In Alabama, punitive damages are “bonus” damages that are awarded to discourage defendants and others from engaging in similar misconduct. Punitive damages are awarded as a “multiple” of the existing compensatory damages — so for example, if you are entitled to recover $100,000 for your injuries, the court might award punitive damages of up to four times that amount ($400,000), for a total of $500,000 in damages.
Given how high punitive damages can push the total recovery, it’s worth pursuing when it is available. In Alabama, punitive damages are up to the discretion of the court to award, however, and the plaintiff must also show that the defendant’s conduct was malicious, willful, and/or egregious in nature. If the defendant was only just barely intoxicated, then that might not be sufficient for a punitive damages award — but if the defendant was bragging at a party about how they can drive drunk, and if they showed a willful disregard for the safety of others by planning to drive after consuming an excess of alcohol, then the court may find punitive damages appropriate.
If you’ve been injured in a drunk driving accident in Alabama, then it’s important that you get in touch with a qualified attorney as soon as possible. Lawsuits — including those centering around motor vehicle accidents — have a statute of limitations deadline by which you must bring a claim. As such, it’s critical that you consult an attorney at an early stage.
Here at Cross & Smith, our team has represented plaintiffs for decades, helping them secure damages in challenging motor vehicle disputes. We understand how confusing it can be for injured plaintiffs to pursue recovery, and to that end, we strive to work closely with our clients from beginning-to-end so that they are kept “in the loop” at all times.