Drunk driving crashes that occur in Virginia are somewhat different from other car crashes. These all-to-frequent crashes can result in serious injuries, loss of life and property damage. Preliminary data for 2019 from the Commonwealth of Virginia indicate that 6,511 crashes involved alcohol. These crashes resulted in 176 fatalities and 4,052 injuries.
The first difference between a drunk driving crash and other crashes is that there are usually two separate cases that are unfolding concurrently.
The first case is a criminal trial charging the inebriated driver with DUI (Virginia Code 18.2-266). If warranted by the facts of the crash, other criminal charges may be brought by the Commonwealth’s Attorney (prosecutor) of the crash locality. Persons injured in the crash and others may be called as a witness in the criminal trial.
The criminal trial is a vital source in preparing a civil case. Many attorneys engage the services of a court reporter to transcribe all sworn testimony given during the criminal trial. The evidence presented in police reports, video recordings, and the documentation of the driver’s blood alcohol level at the time of the crash, is also gathered and used in preparing a civil case. The defendant will be found guilty or not-guilty and appropriate sentence will be imposed if the defendant is found guilty.
The civil case – the personal injury case – may culminate in a trial. Alternatively, the case may be settled through mediation or negotiation before the trial date. In the civil case, the plaintiff seeks financial compensation for damages sustained in or as a result of the crash.
In most auto accident cases the plaintiff will seek damages commensurate with injuries sustained. These include:
- Past and future medical bills
- Property damage
- Past and future lost wages
- Past and future pain and suffering
- Disfigurement or deformity
- Loss of earning capacity
- Ongoing support-for-life costs.
In a drunk driving car crash case, another type of damages can be claimed. These are called “punitive damages.” The point of awarding punitive damages is to punish the defendant for driving drunk and causing the accident and as a deterrent to others who may choose to drive drunk. Punitive damages are not determined or limited to the amount of medical costs.
It can be – and has been – argued that choosing to drive while drunk is a choice to do harm – foreseeable harm. The Virginia Code 8.01-44.5 provides for a presumption of punitive damages if three conditions are met.
- “When the incident causing the injury or death occurred, the defendant had a blood alcohol concentration of 0.15 percent or more by weight by volume or 0.15 grams or more per 210 liters of breath;
- “At the time the defendant began drinking alcohol, or during the time he was drinking alcohol, he knew or should have known that his ability to operate a motor vehicle, engine or train would be impaired, or when he was operating a motor vehicle he knew or should have known that his ability to operate a motor vehicle was impaired; and
- “The defendant’s intoxication was a proximate cause of the injury to or death of the plaintiff.”
This is the most common method for claiming and establishing punitive damages. There are other ways to claim and establish punitive damages. If the defendant refused to submit to a blood or breath test when arrested, there is an alternative method based on proving intoxication based upon evidence of the defendant’s conduct or condition.
If you or a loved one has been injured in a crash caused by a drunk driver, you may be entitled to financial compensation for your hurts and harms. Accidents caused by drunk drivers have some complexities not involved in all auto accident cases. When you need an experienced auto accident and DUI attorney to represent you, call Altizer Law, P.C., in Roanoke VA. Obtaining maximum compensation for injuries and losses may define your future. Bettina Altizer and her team fight for every person to obtain full compensation. We know that when rebuilding your life, it’s about the money.