Just about everyone knows the harm a drunk driver can cause. The destruction can scar a victim for life and tear families apart. This is in accidents where the victim lives. The damage caused by an accident where there is a fatality can be even worse. South Carolina law provides a remedy in some cases that not only helps make a victim whole again but provides a measure of deterrence as well: punitive damages. Punitive damages allow a jury to award an amount to change the future conduct of the Defendant. For example, to discourage a drunk driver from drinking and driving in the future, a jury may award and additional amount of money such as $200,000 or more to make sure that no one in the future is harmed by future drunk driving.
South Carolina DUI Statistics
There are some disturbing statistics in South Carolina regarding traffic accidents and DUI. There were 335 fatalities in South Carolina involving a driver with a blood alcohol content of .08% or higher in 2014. Even more alarming, perhaps, is that almost 15,000 arrests were made in 2013 for DUI in the state. Everyone is aware of the dangers of drunk driving. The driver has impaired judgment, ability and skills that make them much more likely to be involved in serious traffic accidents than a sober person. Of course, with these statistics, the near-misses and blind luck avoidance of accidents does not get figured into the statistics.
Punitive Damages In South Carolina
Punitive damages are defined as those that are allowed above and beyond actual damages and are typically viewed as punishment for egregious behavior. A plaintiff must prove by clear and convincing evidence that they were harmed by the defendant’s willful, wanton or reckless conduct to receive punitive damages. Punitive damages can only be awarded if compensatory or nominal damages were awarded in the first part of the trial. In determining the amount of punitive damages, the jury can consider any relevant evidence, including but not limited to:
- The degree of culpability (or blame);
- The severity of the harm caused;
- The extent the plaintiff’s own behavior contributed to the damage;
- The duration of the defendant’s conduct, their awareness and any concealment;
- The existence of similar past conduct;
- The likelihood that the award will deter future conduct either by the defendant or others;
- Criminal penalties that have been imposed against the defendant for the same conduct; and
- Civil fines levied against the defendant for the same conduct.
DUI: Willful, Wanton or Reckless?
To meet the standards to be eligible for punitive damages, the conduct must be willful, wanton or reckless. Here, the specific facts surrounding the accident are important. If the accident was caused by a defendant who drank alcohol and then got behind the wheel and drove his car or truck while impaired, and has a blood alcohol of .08%, that dangerous conduct likely is reckless and punitive damages may be awarded. However, if the defendant had been drinking all day, boasted that they drove drunk all the time, caused the accident and then had a .25% BAC (to go along with two previous DUI convictions), that is even more wanton and reckless and the punitive damages award should be much higher.
The law concerning personal injury is an ever-evolving field of law. If you have been injured in South Carolina by a drunk driver, or in any car accident, for that matter, you need an attorney who keeps up with the changes. With over 20 years experience, attorney Dan Pruitt is knowledgeable and skilled. Give him a call today at (864) 232-4273 to set up your free initial consultation. You deserve the best representation that will help you get the results you deserve.