You were injured by a Drunk Driver in your Virginia Car Accident Case? (A discussion of Punitive Damages).

If you were injured in a Virginia car accident by a drunk driver, it might be possible to claim Punitive Damages in your case.  Separate and apart from compensation for medical bills, lost wages, pain & suffering, punitive damages are awarded to make a statement to the community that drunk driving will not be tolerated. 

Not every Virginia car accident case involving a drunk driver is eligible for punitive damages.  In fact, in our experience, most drunk driving accident cases won’t qualify for punitive damages.  This is because Virginia law has narrowed which cases are appropriate for such damages to a select few categories of cases. To understand whether your situation warrants punitive damages, you need to speak to a skilled attorney to understand Virginia’s complex punitive damages laws.

James Abrenio has been trying both personal injury and drunk driving cases for over a decade and possesses a unique understanding of Virginia Punitive Damages Law

Here are instances where your case may be eligible for punitive damages:

The Defendant was “twice the legal limit.”

The most straightforward way that your case is eligible for punitive damages is that it meets the statutory requirements under Virginia Code Section 8.01-44.5. Take some time to read that statute, and you will see that those who have a blood alcohol of .15 or above may meet the threshold for punitive damages to be considered by the jury. 

With that said, Code Section 8.01-44.5 also requires other elements to be proved.  But the Defendant having a .15 or above in your case will be an essential fact to be considered.

The Defendant, “unreasonably refused” to submit to a BAC test.

Another way your case may qualify for punitive damages (under Code Section 8.01-44.5) is if the Defendant unreasonably refused to submit to having their blood alcohol level tested.  Whether they “unreasonably” refused will be covered by Virginia’s Implied Consent law under Virginia Code Section 18.268.2. While oversimplifying, Virginia law requires one to submit to a blood-alcohol test if they are driving upon a Virginia “highway,” and law enforcement possesses “probable cause” that they are drunk driving.  

Having tried countless DUI cases from the criminal defense perspective, James has a thorough understanding of Virginia’s Implied Consent laws.  So, make sure to reach out.

What if the driver was neither twice the legal limit nor unreasonably refused?

It’s still possible that your case may be eligible for punitive damages under Virginia “Common Law.”  Common Law is a body of law created by the courts over decades, which define the rules by legal precedent.  Unfortunately, qualifying under the Common Law is very difficult.

Time and time again, the Courts have rejected punitive damage claims in cases that would seem to qualify.  See Puent v. Dickens, 245 Va. 217, (1993)(punitive damage claim barred where drunk driver rear-ended plaintiff while driving “very fast” and later plead guilty to reckless driving);  Hack v. Nester, 241 Va. 499 (1990) (punitive damages not appropriate  when the Defendant consumed a pitcher of beer before the accident, had two prior DUIs, and he operated his car at night without a left headlight and suffering from night blindness, and killed the plaintiff when they collided head-on); Huffman v. Love, 245 Va. 311 (1993) (insufficient evidence for punitive damages when a drunk driver drove his vehicle into an oncoming lane of traffic just after rear-ended another car while speeding and then failed to stop at the scene of the accident).  

With that said, the Courts have permitted punitive damages before.  See Booth v. Robertson, 236 Va. 269 (1988) (punitive damages should have been presented to the jury when the Defendant drove his vehicle down the wrong way of a highway while passing cars honking their horns and blinking their lights at him, and he hit another driver head-on.) 

As you can see, the bar is very high in the category of cases. But if your case involves a drunk driver, it’s still something to consider.  

If my case is eligible for Punitive Damages, how much is that worth?

The answer to this is really – there is no clear answer.  While one jury may award one amount, another would award a different amount.  What we do know, however, is that the Virginia legislature has put a cap on punitive damages at $350,000 under Virginia Code Section 8.01-38.1.

Do you still have questions about your Virginia Car accident?  Give us a call.

Abrenio Law is a boutique personal injury firm in Northern Virginia that has been prosecuting car accident cases for over a decade.  Make sure to reach out to use for your FREE Consultation.  You can reach us at Ph. 703-570-4180.  You can also learn more about Owner James Abrenio here.