Does it really matter if a wreck involves a drunk driver? Is a case worth more money because a drunk driver caused the accident? Should a jury send a message to society regarding drunk drivers when they render verdicts? Should they?
Well, that is a much different question than “Would they”?
Clearly, if a drunk driver causes a wreck, that driver should be liable to the injured party. We all know that drinking and driving is wrong. But, have we become numb to it? Do we REALLY care if people drink and drive and cause crashes and damage?
For years, we have heard about punitive damages and crazy jury verdicts. However, most cases don’t warrant punitive damages. Most cases only warrant compensatory damages. What’s the difference? Compensatory damages compensate the victim for their medical expenses, their lost wages, and their pain and suffering, among other things. For punitive damages, the Alabama Pattern Jury Instructions state:
The purpose of awarding punitive or exemplary damages is to allow money recovery to the plaintiff by way of punishment to the defendant, AND for the added purpose of protecting the public by deterring the defendant and others from doing such wrong in the future. Alabama Pattern Jury Instructions 11.03.
So, the law states that punitive damages should essentially be assessed against a person who decides to drink and get in a car and drive and subject the public to injury. Further, the law now guides us on the appropriate level of punitive damages to award:
Punitive damages not to exceed certain limits.
(a) Except as provided in subsections (b), (d), and (j), in all civil actions where an entitlement to punitive damages shall have been established under applicable laws, no award of punitive damages shall exceed three times the compensatory damages of the party claiming punitive damages or five hundred thousand dollars ($500,000), whichever is greater.
However, the jury is not allowed to be told about the punitive damage limits in 6-11-21 above. We never want to prejudice the jury if it will hurt an insurance company (EXTREME SARCASM).
So, in light of all of the above, two recent jury verdicts fly in the face of punishing drunk drivers, and you can read summaries of both below:
In these two cases, it was undisputed that each driver who caused the wrecks was drunk. Yet, in the first one, the victims had $9,000.00 in medical bills, and the jury awarded $7,400.00 total. In the second trial, the victim had $1,000.00 in medical bills, and the jury awarded $2,500.00. Neither of these verdicts accomplish the purpose of punitive damages: Punish the drunk drivers for consciously drinking and driving AND PROTECT the public by deterring the defendant and others from doing such wrong in the future.
The question is why? Why do the drunk drivers get rewarded and the victims get punished? Who wins when that happens? The drunk drivers and the insurance companies. Who loses? The victims and society.
What do you think about these verdicts?