Many people ask this question but when the purpose behind punitive damages and jury anger and sympathy is explained, it seems much easier to understand. In Georgia, a person injured in an automobile accident can recover for their compensatory damages such as their medical bills and lost wages as well as punitive damages. Punitive damages are intended to punish the person to create a strong incentive for them not to do the same thing again. A financial incentive, as we all learned at a young age, is an extremely valuable tool to encourage people not to behave badly.
Insurance companies rightly fear punitive damages involving drunk driving accidents or drug related car wrecks. Juries certainly do not look fondly upon someone who, after consuming much too much liquor, beer or drugs decides to get behind the wheel while people are going to and from work, school, Church, etc.
The best thing you can do is to explore all of your options. We recently settled a case for the policy limits even though our client had $200.00 in medical bills. Our investigation, which was extremely thorough, revealed prior DUI’s, a high speed chase, etc. We were able to obtain the dash cam of the police officer which revealed the drunken stupor of the Defendant. We were able to send the settlement package, which included the video and information regarding the prior DUI’s, to the insurance company who promptly paid the policy limits without fight or delay. Otherwise, that case had a settlement value somewhere in the range of $250.00 – $300.00.
So what should you do if you are involved in a drunk driving accident?
First, if you have any belief the other driver is under the influence of drugs or alcohol, let the police office know. Often, it is our experience the Defendant involved in the collision “wakes up” pretty quickly and loses the drunken side effects you may have seen earlier. The police officer may not notice them and it would be prudent for you to let him/her know.
Second, if you see the other driver do anything such as place gum in their mouth, pour out beer, throw things away, etc., let the police officer know. You should not feel guilty about trying to get someone who decided to drive drunk off the road. We have had many cases where we have seen people literally place things in their trunk, go get chewing gum while waiting on the police, etc.
Third, let the police know of any statements made by the other driver. It is not unusual for a drunk driver to offer to pay money to avoid calling the police or urge you to contact their insurance company or otherwise play to your sympathies. Let the police know what is going on. If you do not, it will not make it into the report and will have less credibility when you mention it at your deposition or at the trial.
Punitive damages may hold an extreme value in these cases. However, if the investigating officer does not know what has occurred, it makes it very difficult for him to investigate it. Once he does that investigation, a talented lawyer can use that to best punish the Defendant through punitive damages and ensure that the Plaintiff receives just compensation as paid by the insurance company. Even if the physical injuries are not egregious, Georgia law is fair as it relates to the punitive damages.
If you have any questions, it is important to explore those with a lawyer.