Injured Victims Can Recover Punitive Damages from Drunk Drivers

Two whiskey glasses next to car keys on a table

Drunk driving is a dangerous and reckless act. According to a report from the Minnesota Office of Traffic Safety, there were precisely 2,389 traffic injuries that resulted from alcohol-related car collisions in 2017. Of the 358 traffic fatalities that occurred that year, 32% of those them were attributed to an alcohol-related car accident.

Due to the potentially severe consequences of drunk driving, offenders face harsh criminal penalties, including jail time and expensive fines. However, justice doesn’t always end when a criminal sentence is pronounced.

Punitive Damages for Intoxicated Drivers

The civil justice system also recognizes the seriousness of drunk driving. Under Minnesota Statutes, Section 169A.76 (Minn. Stat. § 169A.76) “it is sufficient for the trier of fact to consider an award of punitive damages if there is evidence that the accident was caused by a driver…with an alcohol concentration of 0.08 or more” or who was driving under the influence of drugs.

Typically, personal injury cases are restricted to recovering compensatory damages with regard to a wrongfully or negligently caused injury. Compensatory damages make up for monetary losses that you might sustain as a result of your injury.

For example, the costs of necessary medical treatment, hospital bills, lab tests, and adaptive equipment are recoverable from the defendant as damages. Furthermore, any lost wages or resulting diminishment in earning capacity connected to a disabling injury can qualify for compensation in a personal injury case.

Additionally, the defendant may also be liable for general damages. Although general damages are also compensatory in nature, they’re designed to address non-economic losses you would naturally experience as a consequence of your injury. You would receive a dollar amount equivalent for your pain and suffering, mental anguish, and emotional distress.

However, punitive damages are not compensatory in nature; rather, they are intended for deterrence. The calculation for punitive damages focuses on the defendant’s financial condition. That is because the punitive damages award should be adequate for the defendant to appreciate that their actions were especially wrong.

Importantly, Minnesota courts require that an award for punitive damages must involve allegations indicating that the defendant’s actions were willful, wanton, and malicious. To pursue punitive damages an argument must be made that anyone who decides to get behind the wheel while intoxicated has demonstrated a willful indifference toward the safety of others.

Punitive Damages for the Acts of Non-Drivers

Sometimes the impaired driver isn’t the only party who may be responsible for your injuries. Under Minnesota Statutes, Section 340A.502, “No person may sell, give, furnish, or in any way procure for another alcoholic beverages for the use of an obviously intoxicated person.” Therefore, a bar or restaurant may be liable to you for damages if they sold alcohol to an obviously intoxicated person who injured you as a result of their intoxicated state.

Accordingly, a jury would be authorized to consider imposing a punitive damages judgment upon a bar or restaurant. However, the jury would also have to determine whether the bar’s act of overselling alcohol to the driver qualifies as a willful, wanton, and malicious act.

Minnesota courts have upheld cases that extended liability to a liquor seller based on the driver’s blood alcohol levels. InJewett v. Deutsch, 437 NW.2d 717 (Minn. Ct. App. 1989), the Court of Appeals of Minnesota upheld a judgment against a bar owner for overselling liquor to a patron who killed another driver after driving away from the bar. The court found that it was reasonable for the jury to determine that the driver was obviously intoxicated at the time the bar served him, based on the fact that the driver had a blood alcohol concentration of 0.27.

Consult an Experienced Minneapolis Personal Injury Attorney

Alcohol or drug-related car accidents have the capacity to cause devastating injuries to other people. If you or one of your loved ones suffered a severe injury from a drunk driving car accident, you should call a serious Minneapolis personal injury attorney from Meshbesher & Associates. Since 1981, our team of dedicated litigators has focused on assisting victims who were injured by another person’s wrongful or negligent conduct. We are skilled in courtroom advocacy and negotiating settlements. As a result, you can count on us to take your case to court if necessary.

For a free consultation about discovering the strengths and merits of your case, call Meshbesher & Associates at (612) 200-1526 or contact us online today.

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