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If you were hit by a drunk driver, you’re probably wondering whether you have a claim for punitive damages.  It’s a common belief (and frankly common sense) that if a drunk driver causes an accident, the victim should automatically be eligible for punitive damages.  Unfortunately, in Virginia, it’s surprisingly difficult for a court to award you punitive damages.

What Are Punitive Damages?

Punitive damages are awarded, not to compensate you for your injuries, but to punish the driver that hit you. Essentially, when a court awards punitive damages, it’s making a statement that drunk driving will not be tolarated.  

When are Punitive Damages awarded (Va. Code 8.01-44.5)

The most common instance when punitive damages are awarded in car accident cases is when the defendant was driving with a high Blood Alcohol Content (BAC). Punitive damages are allowed under Virginia Code Section 8.01-44.5 when:

  1. The Defendant’s BAC was (.15) or greater;
  2. At the time of drinking, he knew or should have known that he was DUI; and
  3. The Defendant’s intoxication was the proximate cause of the accident.

If you are somewhat familiar with Virginia law, you know that there’s an inference that a defendant is DUI when his BAC is (.08) or greater.  Therefore, to qualify for punitive damages under the Virginia code, to even start, the Defendant’s BAC needed to been almost TWICE the legal limit! 

However, the Virginia Code does provide authority for punitive damages when the defendant unreasonably refused to submit to testing of his BAC assuming that points 2 and 3 listed above are met.  However, if you are hit by a drunk driver, and they didn’t obtain his BAC, this is an issue your attorney should undoubtedly review. 

Speaking With BenGlassLaw About Punitive Damages

If you have any questions about punitive damages, just call and talk to us. You may not be eligible, but it’s worth asking. Our job is to make sure that you’re educated about the process so that you can make the best decisions about your case. There are no “bad” questions.

Brian Glass
Virginia personal injury lawyer selected to SuperLawyers Rising Stars List and the NTLA's Top 40 Under 40.