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How Much Money Is My Case Worth Against a Drunk Driver?

Richard S. Lundin
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Personal injury and family law attorney licensed to practice in Maryland and the District of Columbia

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One of our goals is to collect the largest settlement we can for our clients in auto accident cases.  This means we add up every possible item of damage, including medical bills, lost income and pain and suffering.  But what about punitive damages?

Punitive damages go beyond compensation for bills and personal losses.  They are awarded to punish a defendant whose conduct is characterized by evil motive, intent to injure, or fraud, and to warn others contemplating similar conduct of the serious risk of monetary liability.

To get punitive damages, you must prove a defendant acted with “actual malice.”  Legally, this means acting with (1) actual knowledge of the danger and (2) conscious or deliberate disregard of the foreseeable harm.

We believe highly intoxicated drivers fit this definition, but unfortunately, the Maryland Court does not.  The Court has ruled that even if the drunk driver’s negligence is gross, wanton or outrageous, the drunk driving doesn’t amount to “actual knowledge” or “actual malice.”  

So currently the answer in Maryland is:  no, not yet.  Unfortunately, you can’t get punitive damages from a drunk driver.

In recent years, there have been proposals to allow punitive damages against a drunk driver who had a high blood alcohol concentration or refused the breathalyzer.  So far, the legislature in Annapolis hasn’t approved it.  We’ll keep trying.

And in the meantime, we will continue to collect full compensation for our clients, and in drunk driving cases, usually a little more in light of the aggravating circumstances.  

We are dedicated to protecting and advancing your rights.

Category: Auto Accidents


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