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Drunk Driving and Punitive Damages

In Arizona when a drunk driver or a driver impaired by drugs or alcohol causes a collision, and injuries occur, the insurance company for the negligent driver may end up paying more in damages to the injured party.

Normally, the injured party may receive fair and reasonable compensation for medical bills, lost income and amounts for his or her injuries, pain and suffering, for any future losses and for any permanent injury.

When an impaired or intoxicated driver is involved, in a civil case for damages, the Arizona Supreme Court has also allowed punitive damages to be considered and awarded by the Court or the jury.

Punitive damages are primarily to punish the wrongdoer and to deter others from committing similar conduct. When a driver knows that it is dangerous to drive when intoxicated, and that intoxicated drivers create substantial risks to others, and when alcohol, or drugs are consumed and a wreck occurs then punitive damages may be awarded, or an insurance company may pay a substantially greater settlement amount to the injured victim.

Evidence that can be considered to determine whether punitive damages should be paid include the number of drinks consumed within a given time period, if any drugs were taken, the driver's blood alcohol, and the nature of the driving of the negligent driver. The combination of facts helps to show that the driver should have known that his conduct created substantial risk of harm to others.

Examples of punitive damage cases, with increased awards, include the following:

• A driver drove through a stop sign in Thatcher, Arizona driving at an excessive speed, following evidence of use of methamphetamine. My client, a resident of Pine, Arizona sustained injuries, she received an enhanced settlement.

• My client, a 12 year old girl, was a passenger in a vehicle, that was hit by a drunk driver, who fled the scene. My client was treated for heart injury complications. An increased settlement was received due to the driver's aggravating conduct.

• Clients of mine were in a vehicle travelling on Shea Blvd. in Scottsdale, Arizona when their vehicle was rearended by a drunk driver, proceeding at 80 miles per hour. Both clients sustained injuries, the other driver's insurance company paid substantially more due to the driver's extremely high blood alcohol level.

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