Drivers who injure or kill others while under the influence do not only risk jail time, fines, skyrocketing insurance rates, and the loss of their driving privileges. They may also find themselves liable for millions of dollars in civil damages.
People injured by drunk drivers – or surviving family members of those killed in drunk driving accidents – can sue the impaired driver and seek tort damages.
Judges and juries are often willing to make large awards of punitive damages to send a message about the dangers of DUI.
Several recent cases illustrate the size of the awards:
- A Hamilton Country, Tennessee woman was awarded $9.25 million in damages after she was hurt by a drunk driver. $350,000 was for past damages, $150,000 was for future damages, and $8.75 million was for punitive damages. The other driver pleaded guilty to vehicular assault and was sentenced to four years in prison.
- In Florida, families of two married couples received $15 million (including $1 million in punitive damages) for a crash in which three of the victims died. The drunk driver (who also had Xanax and cocaine in his system) drove at 86 miles per hour into a stopped Chevy Tahoe carrying the four passengers. The driver is serving a 12-year sentence for DUI manslaughter.
- In San Diego, a judge awarded $55 million to the family of a three-year-old boy who was left paralyzed and brain damaged after being struck by a teenage drunk driver. The young boy was on the sidewalk in his stroller, being pushed by his grandfather, at the time of the accident. The driver was sentenced to 480 days in custody, the maximum penalty for a juvenile. The judge ordered the teenage driver and his father to pay $25 million for the care of the injured boy, $25 million for his pain and suffering, and $5 million in punitive damages. The teen’s father was held liable because he allowed his son to drive the family’s SUV even though the teen did not have a license.
Unfortunately, most victims of drunk driving accidents are unable to collect on such large awards because the defendants are “judgment proof” – i.e., they simply do not have the money to pay, and either they are not covered by insurance or they are not insured for such a large amount.
However, in Florida a polo tycoon worth $300 million agreed to pay $46 million for the death of a 23-year-old who was killed when the millionaire’s Bentley ran a stop sign and slammed into his car at 63 miles per hour, knocking it into a canal. The money will come not from the driver personally but from his insurance policy and from the club where he was drinking “Mind Erasers” and “Irish Car Bombs” before the accident. He was also sentenced to 16 years in prison.
About the Author
Nussin S. Fogel, Esq., has been practicing for over 25 years as a New York slip and fall lawyer. Mr. Fogel founded Fogel Law, a firm specializing in Motor Vehicle Injuries, Slip and Fall Accidents, and other areas of Personal Injury Law. He has published on various aspects of Personal Injury Law across the web.