Drunk driving punitive damages in Louisiana

Unlike the other 49 states, which have a legal system based on English common law, Louisiana law stems from French and Spanish codes.  In keeping with that tradition, Louisiana does not allow punitive damages unless specifically provided by statute. The reason behind this dim view towards punitive damages is that under the civil code system, money damages are meant only to compensate the injured person, and not to punish the wrongdoer who caused the injury.

The purpose of the punitive damages law in Louisiana is to both punish the drunk driver and provide damages to the drunk driver’s victims.

Can I Receive Punitive Damages for My Car Accident Injury?

How can you recover these exemplary punitive damages for your car accident with a drunk driver?  Recovery of this extra money requires proof of three things:

  1. The at-fault driver in the accident was intoxicated or had consumed a sufficient quantity of drugs or alcohol to make him or her lose normal control of his or her mental and physical faculties.
  2. His or her intoxication was the cause-in-fact of your car accident injuries.
  3. The car accident injuries were caused by his or her wanton or reckless disregard for the rights and safety of others.

What does this mean in laymen’s terms?  It means that you need to be able to prove that the driver was intoxicated and that, if he hadn’t been intoxicated, you would have never been injured.

When Can Punitive Damages Apply To My Case?

There are instances, however, when important public policy considerations outweigh this overarching principle of the civil system. Louisiana Civil Code Article 2315.4, for instance, allows for punitive damages in instances where the at-fault party was driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol. In order to prevail, the plaintiff in such cases must prove that (1) the defendant was operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated, (2) that the defendant’s intoxication was the cause of the injuries to the plaintiff, and (3) that the defendant’s conduct was wanton or reckless. If the plaintiff proves those elements as required by Art. 2315.4, the court may then consider a monetary award for exemplary damages, which are intended to punish the defendant’s inherently dangerous actions.

Despite its civil law traditions, Louisiana law provides for punitive damages here to punish drunk drivers and to deter others from driving under the influence.

How Do I Prove I Was Involved in a Car Accident with a Drunk Driver?

The best way to prove a driver’s intoxication is a positive blood alcohol test.  However, blood alcohol level is not the only way in which intoxication can be proven for the purposes of this law.  Absent a blood alcohol test, a judge or jury will look at all of the circumstances surrounding the car accident to determine whether the at-fault driver had consumed a sufficient amount of alcohol or drugs to lose control of his/her mental and physical faculties.  This means that the judge or jury will rely on eyewitness testimony, photographs, the accident police report, written statements, hospital medical records, etc. to determine whether the driver was “drunk” for the purposes of this statute.

So what should you do if you’re involved in a car accident and you suspect that the at-fault driver was intoxicated?  Tell the responding police officer about your suspicion.  If the police officer asks you to submit a written statement, include in your statement that you suspect the driver was intoxicated.  Obtain the names, addresses, and phone numbers of anyone who witnessed the accident or the driver’s behavior before or after the car accident.  Do NOT rely on the police officer to gather this information from the witnesses.   Finally, tell your personal injury attorney as soon as possible about your suspicion, so that he or she can start gathering the necessary evidence that could end up putting more money in your pocket!

Contact Us About Your Car Accident Injury

If you have been involved in a car accident injury with a drunk driver, please contact the personal injury attorneys at Morris Bart, LLC Attorneys at Law today.  We offer a free case evaluation with our personal injury attorneys, who will review the details of your case and advise you on the best approach to getting the compensation you deserve for your car accident injury.

January 9, 2013 | Categories: Auto Accidents, Legal Tips |