Can I Get Punitive Damages in a Drunk Driving Injury Case?
Possibly, if you can convince the court there is sufficient evidence that the at-fault driver was intoxicated. Illinois courts have held that driving while intoxicated (drunk driving) qualifies as a type of willful and wanton conduct that warrants punitive damages against the driver in tort cases.
Unlike compensatory damages (economic damages) related to most civil claims, punitive damages are intended to punish the responsible party and deter similar misconduct (Loitz v. Remington Arms Co., 138 Ill.2d 404 (Ill. 1990)).
In Illinois, a lawsuit seeking punitive damages requires leave of court (permission from the judge) before such damages may be sought from the at-fault driver. A court may allow the plaintiff (injured party) to request punitive damages only if the plaintiff can establish at a preliminary hearing that there are reasonable facts to support such a request at trial.
Further, punitive damages may only be awarded after compensatory damages that are designed to reimburse the injured party for their accident-related expenses (735 ILCS 5/2-1115.05). In other words, the plaintiff must be able to show they had actual, reimbursable damages in order to seek punitive damages. In Illinois, punitive damages may not exceed three times the amount of economic damages awarded.
Noting that the law generally disfavors awarding of punitive damages except in special cases, the Illinois Supreme Court explained the high bar required for pursuing punitive damages in tort cases in Kelsay v. Motorola Inc. (72 Ill.2d 172, 186 (Ill. 1978)): “[P]unitive or exemplary damages may be awarded when torts are committed with fraud, malice, deliberate violence or oppression or when the defendant acts with such gross negligence as to indicate a wanton disregard of the rights of others.”
Illinois courts have held that evidence of intoxication at the time of an auto accident was sufficient to submit to a jury in relation to an allegation of willful and wanton conduct. (Coleman v. Williams, 42 Ill. App. 3d 612 (Ill. App. Ct. 1976).
Attorneys with Experience Representing People Injured or Killed in Illinois Drunk Driving Accidents
At Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers LLC, we understand the profound impact that a drunk driving accident has on accident victims. We are committed to holding irresponsible drivers fully accountable for their actions.
Our law firm regularly files civil lawsuits on behalf of individuals and their families to obtain the compensation Illinois law provides for people injured in DUI accidents. If you or a loved one was injured in a DUI accident, we invite you to call or meet with one of our attorneys for a free review of your case to learn about your legal options for financial recovery.