Drunk driving crashes are handled differently than the average auto accident case or tractor trailer accident in Pinellas, FL. This is for a very important reason; if someone is drunk while driving, and causes harm, they’ll be held legally responsible for the “punitive damages” in addition to the harm they’ve caused. Punitive damages are extra funds awarded as a way to punish the wrongdoer and deter other people from drunk driving in the future. These are serious cases in Florida and it’s highly recommended that you contact a personal injury attorney who has extensive trial experience in this field (board certified attorneys like Clifford Wells). You’re going to need to hire someone who is able to handle not only your injury claims but also navigate the potential punitive damages claims against the drunk driver.
Why contact a personal injury attorney after drunk driving accident?
Our personal injury lawyers have extensive experience representing and advocating for people who have been in a drunk driving accident in Pinellas. However, it is important to note that we are talking about the people who have been injured (or the families who have lost a loved one) as a result of the negligent actions of a drunk driver. If you find yourself in this situation, then please contact Herman & Wells at (727) 821-3195.
During your initial consultation, you’ll be connected directly with one of our personal injury lawyers who will ask you to go over the details of your case. This consultation is complimentary and you’ll receive valuable feedback from our attorney about your case. Our team is committed to providing clear feedback during the case review process and they will let you know if it’s a case we can help you pursue. Even if you don’t end up hiring our law firm, you will leave that conversation with a much better understanding of your current situation and what actions you should be taking next.
Drunk driving accidents in Florida are a growing concern
According to the DUI-USA.DRINK DRIVING.org , in 2008:
- 792 fatal accidents in Florida where at least one driver had a BAC of 0.08% or higher
- 875 people were killed in Florida where at least one drive had a BAC of 0.08% or higher
- 165 people were killed in Florida accidents where at least one driver had a BAC between 0.01% and 0.07%
- 1,041 total deaths caused in Florida where at least one driver had a BOC of 0.01% or higher
Comparatively, in 1995:
- 51,718 people were arrested in Florida for driving under the influence
- 717 fatal accidents in Florida were caused when at least one driver had a BAC of 0.08% or higher
- 803 people were killed in Florida in accidents where at least one driver had a BAC of 0.08% or higher
- 154 people were killed in Florida accidents where at least one driver had a BAC between 0.01% and 0.07%
- 956 total deaths were caused in Florida where at least one driver had a BAC of 0.01% or higher
Florida has a higher-than-average rate of drunk drivers on the road
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), out of the 32,000 crash deaths in the US in 2013, “8,476 people were killed in Florida from drunk driver crashes between 2003 and 2012.” Drivers surveyed reported to the CDC that a great number of them still continued to drive even though there were really too intoxicated to do so.
How Florida law enforcement has responded to this growing problem
Law enforcement officers have been working to stem the rise in drunk driving that seems to persist in Florida by employing several distinct strategies, including:
- Running anti-drunk driving campaigns
- Setting up sobriety checkpoints
- Enforcing drunk driving laws
If you or a loved one have been injured or affected by a drunk driver, please call us for a free consultation to find out how much your case is worth and what can be done. These senseless acts and the fatalities they produce must be stopped.
What’s the difference between DUI and drunk driving accidents in Florida?
Driving under the influence (DUI) could mean drugs or liquor, but some people use them interchangeably. Although the courts have not separated them out for the purposes of damages, proving someone is “impaired” is really the standard, and may be harder to prove when drugs are involved. When you are hit by someone who is driving under the influence, it may not feel any different than being hit by any other car, both injure you, but there is a difference when it comes to your claim against that person.
The main difference between being hit by someone who is driving or under the influence of drugs or alcohol is that being hit by a person driving under the influence opens up additional damages. Not only are they responsible to you for the regular damages for the rest of your life like medical expenses, lost wages, pain and suffering, but a DUI driver also owes you what is called punitive damages in drunk driving accidents.
Important DUI laws in Florida
Penalties in Florida depend on the exact circumstances in each particular case and the number of previous offenses (if any). Both the 1st and 2nd DUI offenses are classified as a misdemeanor. At a 3rd or 4th offense, the classification changes to Third Degree Felony.
First DUI Offense in Florida includes:
- Fines: $500 to $1,000
- Up to six months in jail
- Six months to one-year revocation of driver’s license
- Up to one year of probation with monthly reporting
- 50 hours community service (or pay fine)
- Must attend DUI school/program
- Possible impoundment of vehicle for 10 days
- Substance abuse treatment, as required
If the first DUI offense included driving under the influence with a BAC of 0.15 or higher, or with a minor in the vehicle (under the age of 18), the penalties increase to:
- Fines: $1,000 to $2,000
- Up to nine months in jail
- Not less than six months ignition interlock (IID)
What are punitive damages?
Punitive damages: The type of conduct necessary to sustain an award of punitive damages must be of a “gross and flagrant character, evincing reckless disregard of human life, or of the safety of persons exposed to its dangerous effects, or there is that entire want of care which would raise the presumption of a conscious indifference to consequences, or which shows wantonness or recklessness, or grossly careless disregard of the safety and welfare of the public, or that reckless indifference to the rights of others which is equivalent to an intentional violation of them.” White Constr. Co., Inc. v. Dupont, 455 So.2d 1026, 1029 (Fla.1984) (quoting Carraway v. Revell, 116 So.2d 16, 20 n. 12 (Fla.1959)).
Florida Courts have held that intoxicated drivers by their very nature qualify for punitive damages. See for example Zuckerman v. Robinson, 846 So.2d 1257 (Fla. 4th DCA 2003). Because punitive damages are damages awarded to punish the defendant, your attorney is allowed to obtain the financial information about a defendant that they normally would not have to give. Sometimes we can also get prior driving record too. Sometimes these alone motivate defendants to lien on their insurance carriers to settle your case.
What good do punitive damages serve?
Punitive damages do a lot of good to our community. They serve as a deterrent to those thinking about driving while drunk or high. Another good thing is that it helps the person they hurt, who would usually prefer to never have been hurt in the first place, even after they get a “fair” verdict.
How much are punitive damages after drunk driving accidents?
Punitive damages have changed a few times over the years, and are limited by Florida Statute §768.73 to the greater of either a) three times the amount of compensatory damages or b) $500,000. There are exceptions to get more than this, but please talk to a lawyer that is board certified in civil trial before using the exceptions. The reason it is so important to talk to a lawyer right away is that you may NOT want to use it depending on the circumstances. If this is a question for you, call me and I’ll explain why. You need to answer the question before you give any statements about your case to anyone.
Will I ever get punitive damages?
A problem with punitive damages is that they are rarely covered by insurance. This will sound nit-picky lawyering, but it is another reason to get a lawyer involved in your drunk driving accident claim right away. The insurance carrier for the drunk/high driver will probably claim that their policy does not cover the punitive damages claim, and a good lawyer may be able to argue against that. For example, if the bad drivers’ liability insurance policy only covers “compensatory damages” it may not have to cover punitive damages, which are not there to compensate for losses, but rather they are to punish the defendant. That happened in First Specialty Ins. Co. v. Caliber One Indem. Co., 988 So.2d 708 (Fla. 2nd DCA 2008).
There are exceptions and exceptions to exceptions, so talk to a board certified civil trial attorney right away. If punitive damages are not covered under the drunk drivers’ insurance, and that bad driver does not have lots of money, you will have a hard time ever recovering actual punitive damages. At Herman & Wells, we work hard to fight for everything that you deserve when someone is driving under the influence and hurts you so do not hesitate to call for a free consultation.
Case ResultsSee More Case Results
Intoxicated Driver Killed Father and Husband
We represented a family who lost their father and husband in an accident involving a truck driven by a driver believed to be under the influence. We filed a lawsuit on behalf of the family and after fighting for our clients, we were able to settle their case for $2,050,000.
Personal Injury Settlement for Injured Teenager
Our client, a teenager, was severely injured as a passenger. After gathering the evidence, we persuaded all of the insurance companies involved to resolve the case for our client.