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Can You Get Punitive Damages from a Drunk Driving Crash?

December 23, 2020

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There are two types of compensation people can get when they are hurt by others’ negligence:
  • Compensatory damages
  • Punitive damages
For most personal injury cases, including auto accidents, injured victims and their lawyers pursue compensatory damages. These damages are awarded when the drivers who injured them were engaged in dangerous activities, such as speeding, distracted driving, following too closely, failing to stop at a stop sign, or other negligent behaviors. But sometimes, injured victims and their lawyers can also pursue punitive damages. While these damages are still paid to the victims, they’re intended to punish the at-fault drivers or parties rather than compensate the injured victims.

When Can Drivers Get Punitive Damages?

Ohio law isn’t very permissive when it comes to allowing injured victims to receive punitive damages after accidents and injuries. But there are exceptions, including in car accident claims. That exception includes when accident or injury-causing parties “demonstrate malice, aggravated or egregious fraud, oppression, or insult” and there’s ample evidence of it. What constitutes malice, or aggravated and egregious behavior? Previous court verdicts in Ohio have ruled that drivers who are extremely intoxicated and cause crashes after getting behind the wheel may be considered to fall under those categories. In other words, drivers with BACs of 0.09% may not be on the hook for punitive damages, but drivers with BACs of 0.18% may be. In addition, you may even be able to pursue punitive damages against a person or party who provided alcohol to the drunk driver. For example, if they were heavily overserved at a bar, restaurant, or private gathering, and the bartender, server, or host knew they were already intoxicated when they served them, they can be on the hook for punitive damages for your injuries.

There Are Limits to Punitive Damages in Ohio

Punitive damages can be highly effective when it comes to punishing negligent drunk drivers and further compensating their victims. But there are limits to how much money they can provide. First, it’s important to note that pursuing punitive damages may not always be worth it if the at-fault party doesn’t have many assets or money on hand. Because punitive damages are paid out of pocket and not through insurance, drivers who don’t have much cash will be unable to pay, making it an unwise use of time and resources to pursue them. Second, punitive damages are capped at twice the amount that victims recover in compensatory damages. That means that if you’re awarded $50,000 by the insurance company or a jury, your punitive damages will be capped at $100,000. In addition, there’s a further hard cap of $350,000 for punitive damages in Ohio, regardless of your compensatory damages.

Our Lawyers Can Help You Determine if Punitive Damages Are Right for You

If you were hurt in a crash involving a drunk driver, there’s a good chance you may be eligible to receive punitive damages. That’s especially true if the other driver was heavily intoxicated, which may not be determined until well after they’ve left the accident. When you call the Ohio auto accident lawyers at Nurenberg, Paris, Heller & McCarthy, we’ll collect all evidence to determine their level of intoxication, including the police report and breathalyzer records, to determine the best path forward. In addition to working hard to increase your compensation, we’ll also take pride in doing our duty of keeping Ohio’s roads safer by ensuring drunk drivers get the message that their recklessness has consequences loud and clear. Contact us today for a free consultation. Whether you’re eligible for compensatory damages, punitive damages, or both, we’re here to help.

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