There are two categories of damages that might be available after a personal injury or wrongful death: compensatory damages and punitive damages. Compensatory damages encompass the economic and non-economic losses arising from the tort. They are awarded to make the victim(s) “whole again.” Punitive damages, however, are intended to punish the defendant and to deter similar transgressions in the future.
Every successful personal injury or wrongful death case will yield some amount of compensatory damages. Examples include medical costs, lost income, out of pocket expenses and property damage. However, punitive damages are only awarded in cases that involve particularly egregious behavior. Specifically, pursuant to California Civil Code § 3294, punitive damages may be available if the defendant acted with fraud, malice, or oppression.
If you were injured by someone who was drunk or on drugs, it may be possible to obtain a punitive award. In this article, we will provide an overview of the circumstances when punitive damages might be recoverable and discuss two common scenarios that involve defendants who were under the influence of drugs or alcohol when the tort was committed.
When Might Punitive Damages Be Available in California?
As previously mentioned, punitive damages may be awarded against a defendant who acted with fraud, malice, or oppression. Those terms are defined below:
- Fraud: A defendant acts with fraud when they intentionally misrepresent, deceive, or conceal a material fact that the defendant knows, with the purpose of depriving a person of legal rights or property rights or to otherwise cause injury. For example, if you were injured in a slip and fall accident and the property owner deletes surveillance footage and lies about what caused the fall despite having knowledge of said cause, this may constitute fraud. Another example of fraud in tort cases is when documents are altered to cover up negligence. This might happen, for instance, if a motor carrier alters driving logs to cover up an Hours of Service violation, or a doctor alters a patient’s records to cover up medical negligence.
- Malice: A defendant acts with malice when they intentionally cause injury to a person, or acts with despicable conduct with a conscious and willful disregard of the safety or rights of others.
- Oppression: A defendant acts with oppression when they subject someone else to unjust and cruel hardship in conscious disregard of their rights.
What If I Was Hit by a Drunk or Drugged Driver?
Driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol would constitute malice since it demonstrates a conscious and willful disregard for the safety or rights of others. Given that the risks of drunk and drugged driving are so well-known—nearly one-third of all traffic deaths involve an impaired motorist—it is reasonable to assume that the defendant would have been aware of the dangers posed by their behavior yet made a conscious and willful choice to disregard those risks. The argument for punitive damages would be particularly strong if the defendant had an especially high blood-alcohol concentration (BAC) or had previous convictions for drug- or alcohol-related traffic offenses.
What If I Was Violently Attacked by an Intoxicated Person?
If you were violently attacked by another person, punitive damages might be recoverable regardless of whether the assailant was under the influence of drugs or alcohol. This is because the defendant would have been acting with the intent to cause injury. Assuming the defendant was not acting in defense of themselves or another person, it is likely that punitive damages would be available in this scenario.
What Evidence Might Be Used to Pursue Punitive Damages?
The evidence your personal injury lawyer uses to pursue punitive damages will depend on the circumstances. Were you injured by a drunk driver, violently attacked, or harmed in some other scenario that involved malice, oppression, or fraud? Where did the incident happen? Did police attend the scene? Was the defendant arrested? These are just a few of the questions your lawyer will ask when determining the kinds of evidence needed to build your claim.
Valuable evidence may include:
- The Police Report: If the police were called, they should have drafted a report that provides an overview of the circumstances that caused your injury. The liable party may have even admitted to police that they were under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
- Toxicology Reports: If you were hit by a drunk or drugged driver, the toxicology report should show that the defendant was under the influence at the time of the accident.
- The Defendant’s Criminal Record: The court may be more inclined to award punitive damages if the defendant had previous convictions for similar misconduct.
- Video Footage: Surveillance or dashcam footage might show the incident that caused your injuries and demonstrate that the defendant acted with malice. If you were hit by a drunk driver, your lawyer might try to obtain video footage of the establishment that served the alcohol.
- Receipts: Any receipts for alcohol purchases made by the defendant might be used to prove that intoxication played a role in causing your injuries.
- Social Media Posts: If the defendant published posts about drinking alcohol or tagged their location in the hours before the accident, such content might be used to strengthen your case.
Speak with a Long Beach Personal Injury Lawyer Today
Your Injuries Are Personal to Me
If you or a member of your family was seriously injured by someone who was under the influence of drugs or alcohol, contact the Law Office of Michael D. Waks. We have extensive experience helping clients obtain punitive damages. For a free consultation, send us an email or call (562) 206-1939.
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