Vehicle crash victims of drunk drivers are sometimes severely injured and even result in a fatality. Among the southeastern states, Georgia has the most vehicle drunk driving fatalities besides Florida. Drunk driving defendants may be held responsible for their aggravated wrongdoing and face the possibility of paying compensatory damages as well as punitive damages.
PROVING FAULT AGAINST A DRUNK DRIVER
Just like a usual car crash incident, the steps for proving fault of the other defendant driver is the same. For determining fault against defendant driver, the basic components for proving fault or responsibility in a motor vehicle crash are:
- Proving there was a duty of reasonable care that each owed you;
- There was a breach of duty owed to you for each who may be responsible;
- The breach of their duty caused your motor vehicle crash injuries; and
- You did not contribute to causing your motor vehicle crash injuries. In Georgia, the person making an injury claim must be 49% or less at-fault than the other responsible party or parties to recover.
In Georgia, the violation of a traffic law is negligence per se, which means that negligence is presumed. See Maxineau v. King, 304 Ga. App. 217, 695 S.E.2d 732 (2010). However, this does not automatically prove fault. Rather, it shifts the burden of proof to the defendant to show that the traffic violation was unintentional and exercise of reasonable care. Unless the defendant has plead guilty to a traffic violation, evidence of any traffic court charge and disposition of that traffic case is not admissible against the defendant. See Eubanks v. Waldron, 263 Ga. App. 75, 587 S.E.2d 253 (2003). Further, the Georgia Court of Appeals has stated that a defendant's mere payment of a traffic fine is also not admissible of his or her guilt or fault. See Howard v. Lay, 259 Ga. App. 391, 577 S.E.2d 75 (2003).
Even if an injured claimant can prove a defendant's negligence whether negligence per se or otherwise, that claimant must still prove that the defendant's negligence was the cause of his or her injuries as the Georgia Court of Appeals has stated in Cannon v. St., 220 Ga. App. 212, 4698 S.E.2d 343 (1996).
WHAT IS A DRUNK DRIVER INJURY CLAIM WORTH?
In a drunk driver crash claim, there are two separate types of damages that may be recoverable.
- Compensatory damages account for your usual damages like medical expenses along with pain and suffering.
- Punitive damages are additional monetary damages that is designed to penalize, punish or deter a defendant for her wrongful actions under O.C.G.A § 51-12-5.1. In Georgia, there is no monetary limit or "cap" for punitive damages that a jury can award at trial. In Langlois v. Wolford, 246 Ga. App. 209, 539 S.E.2d 565 (2000), the Georgia Court of Appeals has held that the current drunk driving together with prior history of drinking and D.U.I. is an aggravated wrongdoing that allows punitive damages.
Although a victim of a drunk driver crash may be entitled to both compensatory and punitive damages, each claim is unique to your situation. Please refer to our bodily injury claim value page for more details on compensatory damages.
WHICH AUTOMOBILE INSURANCE IS RESPONSIBLE FOR PUNITIVE DAMAGES?
Generally, the insurance policy that covers the vehicle driven by the drunk driver is the primary automobile insurance also known as the primary liability insurance that would be responsible for your injuries from a drunk driver crash. In Federal Ins. Co. v. National Distributing Co., Inc., 203 Ga. App. 763, 417 S.E.2d 671 (1992), Georgia Court of Appeals held that insurance coverage for punitive damages applies to motor vehicle liability insurance.
However, an automobile liability insurance company may expressly exclude punitive damages in its coverage. In Nationwide Mut. Fire Ins. Co. v. Kim, 294 Ga. App. 548, 669 S.E.2d 517 (2008), the Georgia Court of Appeals held that the liability insurance company could protect itself from their duty to pay punitive damages by expressly excluding punitive damages within its insurance policy.
Usually, an under-insured or uninsured insurance policy cannot be held responsible for punitive damages from a drunk driver crash. In Roman v. Terrell, 195 Ga. App. 219, 393 S.E. 2d 83 (1990), the Georgia Court of Appeals held that punitive damages is not recoverable from an under-insured or uninsured insurance policy because punitive damages from these policies would not deter the defendant's wrongful conduct. The Georgia Supreme Court also reinforced this case law in State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co. v. Weathers, 260 Ga. 123, 392 S.E.2d 1 (1990).
ADDITIONAL PARTIES THAT MAY BE RESPONSIBLE
In situations where the negligent drunk driver was served too much alcohol at a bar, restaurant, or other drinking establishments. Those establishments may be held responsible for contributing to the cause of your drunk driver crash injuries. Please refer to our drinking bar liability page for more information.
HOW WE CAN HELP
When you have been injured because a drunk driver crashed into your vehicle, there may be overlapping issues. The issues of punitive damages and drinking establishment liability may complicate your claim. Our expertise can guide you into finding all parties that may be responsible for your injuries. We will explain your rights and seek to maximize your compensation including compensatory and punitive damages. Our consultations for personal injury matters are free so connect with us.