Drunk driving or driving while intoxicated is a serious and dangerous crime. Given the devastating repercussions of drunk driving or driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, these highly irresponsible offenses have been rightfully subjected to strict laws and punishments across the United States.
In Louisiana, one of the additional punishments applied to drunk drivers or those who operate motor vehicles while under the influence of alcohol or drugs is the application of punitive damages. The court may use these damages when a defendant has been found guilty of drunk driving or driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
What Are Punitive Damages or Exemplary Damages?
Punitive or exemplary damages are compensation payments charged to the defendant after they are found liable or guilty of committing a particular offense. This is generally paid to the injured party in addition to compensatory damages and is subject to the court’s discretion.
Courts typically award punitive damages to punish defendants for their grossly negligent or intentional actions. The primary goals of punitive damage are to:
- Punish the defendant for their egregious negligence or deliberate act in the hope of reforming them; and
- Make an example of the defendant to deter others from committing the same offenses.
Given the severity of punitive damages, they are generally applied only to acts where malice and fraud are present in the offense. There must be intentional harm or extreme negligence to others in order for punitive damages to be applied.
What Louisiana Law About Punitive Damages Applies to Drunk Driving Cases?
Louisiana Civil Code 2315.4 applies in motor vehicle accidents where the defendant is an intoxicated driver or under the influence. This law provides additional damages in cases where the defendant is intoxicated while operating a motor vehicle.
Specifically, this law states that punitive damages may be given to the claimant if they can prove that their injuries were caused by an intoxicated motor vehicle driver who has a wanton or reckless disregard for the rights and safety of others.
It is also important to note that these punitive damages may be granted in addition to the general and special damages applied to the claim. Thus, this amount is beyond the usual claims for pain and suffering, medical expenses, lost wages, property damages, and other damages caused by the car accident.
What Should a Victim Injured by an Intoxicated or Drug Impaired Driver Show to Rightfully Claim Punitive Damages?
Although the law states that a motor vehicle accident victim caused by an intoxicated or drug-impaired driver may be entitled to punitive damages, the victim must prove specific requirements to claim punitive damages in their case.
Specifically, the claimant must be able to prove the following in order to successfully claim and collect punitive damages from the intoxicated or drug-impaired at-fault driver:
- The at-fault driver of the vehicle that caused the accident was either intoxicated or under the influence of drugs or alcohol, that impaired their mental and physical senses.
- The impairment of the at-fault driver caused by alcohol or drugs was the cause-in-fact of the injuries the victim sustained.
- The injuries sustained by the victim were caused by the intoxicated or impaired driver’s wanton or reckless disregard for the rights and safety of others.
Does Insurance Covers Punitive Damages in Drunk Driving Cases?
It depends on the insurance policy language of the at-fault driver.
An insurance company’s liability regarding the damages and injuries from a car accident caused by an intoxicated or impaired driver dramatically depends on the language of the insurance policy held by the policyholder. In Louisiana, a motor vehicle insurance policy may include a language that covers punitive damages incurred by the policyholder. However, the extent of insurance coverage for punitive damages is highly dependent on the exact wording of the insurance policy. Thus, it is critical to understand the insurance policy’s specific language and how it may apply in a motor vehicle accident involving an intoxicated or impaired driver.
In the event that the insurance policy does not include coverage of punitive damages, or is limited to punitive damages not involving drunk drivers or alcohol or drug-impaired drivers, then the vehicle operator is fully financially responsible for the punitive damages rendered by the court.
Since the responsible party for the payment of punitive damages dramatically depends on the legal language of the insurance policy, it is vital to have the legal assistance of a reputable attorney who can interpret the legal language included in the insurance contract.
Complete, proper, and timely claims are critical in any lawsuit. In cases involving a drunk driver or someone operating a motor vehicle under the influence of drugs or alcohol, it is essential to include all applicable and valid claims that a victim is entitled to under the law. Such claims may include punitive damages, and a well-versed personal injury attorney can help you file the appropriate claims within Louisiana law. Moreover, a knowledgeable lawyer can help you determine the responsible party for the payment of punitive damages by reviewing the insurance policy document of the at-fault driver.
If you or a loved one is involved in a motor vehicle accident where the at-fault driver is either intoxicated or under the influence of drugs or alcohol, please give us a call at (225) 963-9638, or you can click here to contact us for a free consultation. Our highly experienced attorneys can help you assess your claim and represent your legal interests.