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Injured because of a DUI? You Can Get Punitive Damages


When we are hit and injured by a drunk driver, there is almost a higher level of anger, contempt and anger. We can almost, in our heads, excuse someone for making an innocent mistake—but drunk driving is hardly innocent, and hardly a mistake. It is as close to an intentional act of carelessness that there is, when talking about accidents.

The law agrees with these feelings, holding drunk drivers to a higher standard of liability than others who may cause an accident simply out of negligence. The law says that as a victim, if you prove liability, you can get punitive damages against the negligent driver, for the injuries that driver has caused you.

Punitive Damages in Normal Cases

This is rare in the law. Normally, with punitive damages, you aren’t even allowed to ask for them when your case starts. Rather, you must “build up” your case, gathering evidence. Once you have sufficient evidence, you then have to ask the judge for permission to ask the jury for punitive damages.

If the judge says yes, it doesn’t mean you get punitive damages—you just have the right to ask the jury for them later on, at your trial.

There are other hurdles as well. For example, there is a $500,000 cap on punitive damages, and you need to prove your case by a higher standard (clear and convincing evidence) than with normal negligence cases.

Restrictions Don’t Apply

But with drunk driving, many of these roadblocks don’t apply. There is no ca on damages. And you get to prove your case by the same “greater weight of the evidence standard that applies to every other negligence case.

Procedurally, you are still required to ask the judge to add a claim for punitive damages. But because the law is very clear that victims can get punitive damages when injured by others as a result of DUI, most any judge will grant you the permission needed to ask the judge for punitive damages.

No Getting Rid of the Debt

Additionally, if the Defendant is found liable to pay you compensation for your injuries, the Defendant is legally not allowed to discharge that debt owed to you through bankruptcy. DUI judgments are nondischargeable debts in bankruptcy court.

It Doesn’t Matter What Happened in Criminal Court

You get punitive damages (and the other benefits), even if the Defendant was never criminally convicted for the DUI. If the Defendant plea bargained, was found not guilty, or the criminal case was dismissed, as a victim in civil court, you still have the right to prove that the Defendant was driving drunk, and you can still get punitive damages.

Remember that in criminal court, the standard of proof is less than in criminal court (which is beyond a reasonable doubt). That means that even if a Defendant was not criminally convicted, it still may be easier for you to show, in civil court, that the Defendant was driving drunk.

Contact the Tampa personal injury lawyers at Barbas, Nunez, Sanders, Butler & Hovsepian and schedule a consultation today if you have been injured by a drunk driver.


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