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Legal Blog

Drunk Driving Lawsuits & Collecting Punitive Damages

Car accidents are overwhelming enough, but when the person who hurt you was drinking and driving, you struggle to make sense of who would choose to do this. The dangers of DUI have been recognized and advertised for decades, so understanding why a drunk driver would still get in their car and behind the wheel after drinking can leave you confused, angry, and desperate for justice.

Fortunately, you have legal options after a drunk driver has harmed you. You can file an insurance claim and / or pursue a civil lawsuit with the help of a respected car accident attorney. In the worst cases, you may even receive punitive damages. Let’s examine what that means in terms of a drunk driving lawsuit.

Houston Leads the State for Drunk Driving Accidents

Houston, TX is among the worst places for DUI accidents in the U.S. In 2022, Harris County had the highest number of drunk driving crashes in the state, with over 3,500 incidents. Becoming the victim of someone under the influence of alcohol who thoughtlessly chose to get behind the wheel can be devastating.

Through no fault of your own, you are suddenly thrown into a world of injuries, property damage, lost income, and pain. In situations like this, justice may seem impossible. However, drunk driving lawsuits allow victims to recover some or all of their losses.

Filing a Drunk Driving Lawsuit in Houston, TX

Texas is an at-fault state for automotive accidents. This means that each driver must carry insurance to pay for injuries and other damage they cause in a car crash. Ideally, you would be able to file a claim against their insurance, collect a settlement, and get back to your life; however, insurance companies don’t generally handle things that smoothly or that quickly. You may also choose to file a claim with your own insurance if the at fault driver doesn’t have insurance coverage or has insufficient coverage.

In the event of a drunk driving accident, you can still file against the driver’s insurance, but your injuries might be so severe that they exhaust the policy coverage limits. You could wind up with hundreds of thousands of dollars in surgery costs, rehabilitative care, and subjective losses. In cases like these, you will need to pursue a drunk driving lawsuit with the help of an experienced Houston car accident attorney.

By filing a civil lawsuit, you have a greater chance of recovering every penny of your damages, including all your past medical care expenses and projected future costs for full recovery. If the actions of the drunk driver were especially careless or negligent, the court could award punitive damages on top of the compensatory award you receive.

Other Potentially Responsible Parties in a Drunk Driving Lawsuit

While the drunk driver is obviously the first person you want to hold accountable for your car accident, Texas law allows you to pursue other potentially liable parties as well. Your personal injury attorney can include the establishment that overserved the driver under the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Code Ann. §2.01 (The Texas Dram Shop Act), a law put in place to allocate responsibility to bars and restaurants that serve alcohol to already intoxicated individuals who subsequently cause damage to others.

To use this law in your case, your attorney must show that intoxication was a proximate cause of the crash and your injuries directly resulted from the wreck. You should also know the following about dram shop laws:

  • Your attorney can help you file an insurance claim and / or a lawsuit against the drunk driver, but there is no such direct insurance option available for a dram shop claim. You will need to file a personal injury lawsuit against the establishment to seek financial relief for your damages.
  • If your attorney’s investigation determines that the drunk driver was drinking at a party held by friends, the Dram Shop Act doesn’t apply. In cases like these, the people who held the party are known as social hosts, and you’ll need to file a personal injury lawsuit against them individually.
  • If the driver who hit you was under age 18, the Dram Shop Act protection that requires your attorney to prove proximate cause won’t protect the establishment. Your drunk driving lawyer in Houston, TX can pursue them aggressively to pay their share of the damages you are owed.

Because the dram shop and drunk driving laws can be complex, it’s best to hire a skilled personal injury attorney in Houston to manage the legal details while you focus on getting better. Your lawyer can file insurance forms, negotiate with the insurance company, and prepare your case for court on your behalf.

What Are Punitive Damages?

Punitive damages are one of three types of compensation you may be awarded in a personal injury case. The other categories are economic and non-economic damages, and these categories encompass medical bills, lost wages, property damage, pain and suffering, and disability. They are intended solely to cover your actual damages and losses in an accident.

Punitive damages go above and beyond this. They are only awarded when the person liable for the accident demonstrated a wanton disregard for safety and acted in a grossly negligent manner.

Punitive Damages if the Other Driver Was Drunk

After a drunk driving car accident, it is likely that you are entitled to punitive damages. Drunk driving, in and of itself, is grossly negligent. When drivers get behind the wheel after drinking, they know there is a chance that their driving will be impaired. Knowing that and choosing to drive anyway is negligent.

However, you still have to prove that the other party was grossly negligent in their actions. This is why it’s important to work with a personal injury lawyer. Punitive damages are meant to punish the person and / or entity responsible for the accident. The amount should be high enough to penalize them for their decisions and to discourage others from engaging in similar behavior.

How an Attorney Helps Prove Punitive Damages

To collect punitive damages, you have to prove the liable driver’s malice or disregard. In some cases, a DUI conviction is enough to meet that standard; however, this is not always the case. For example, a driver who barely hit the legal limit and underestimated how much they drank may not be viewed the same as a driver who has had four prior DUI convictions.

In addition, you should also have reasonable expectations of what you may receive as you prepare your personal injury case. Texas damage caps are set by the Texas Damage Act. Under this law, punitive damages are limited to $200,000 or twice your economic damages plus non-economic damages (capped at $750,000), whichever amount is greater. The limits ensure juries cannot simply award excessive damages that leave people in financial ruin.

No matter the circumstances, your attorney will work with you to prove that you deserve the maximum compensation possible for your losses. This may involve highlighting the other party’s history of drunk driving and their decision to continue driving while impaired, demonstrating the serious losses you’ve sustained as a result, and proving that their decisions were not simply an error in judgment.

Gathering Evidence to Prove Your Case

Your attorney will rely on their education and experience to present your case, but they will perform a large amount of work before you go into the courtroom. This includes gathering relevant evidence, analyzing it, and preparing it to provide the most support to your claims against the drunk driver.

Your car accident attorney will use sources such as:

  • Accident reconstruction reports
  • Blood alcohol test results
  • Cell phone records
  • Criminal charges made against the defendant from the accident
  • Data from the electronic control unit of the defendant’s vehicle
  • Expert testimony about skid marks, auto damage, and other evidence
  • Police accident reports
  • The defendant’s driving record, including any previous DUI charges or convictions
  • Video from traffic, security, and other cameras in the area
  • Witness statements

While the defendant’s attorney may claim their client isn’t at fault or that you played a part in the crash, a DUI charge or conviction resulting from the car accident is strong evidence to a jury in a civil lawsuit. Your drunk driving accident lawyer will develop the most robust case possible to secure the financial compensation and justice you deserve.

Contact The Krist Law Firm Today

A drunk driving accident is a setback, but you can move forward even after suffering serious injuries. With the right legal support and representation, you can fight for the compensation you deserve. The Krist Law Firm is dedicated to helping victims like you fight for their rights.

Our team of attorneys is dedicated to your well-being. We are here to help you recover physically, emotionally, and financially so you can overcome the careless damage that’s been done to your life. We have helped thousands of clients for over 40 years, and we stand ready to work for you.

If a drunk driver caused an auto accident in or around Houston that left you injured, schedule a free consultation now through our online form. We’ll tell you what to expect and how to hold the impaired driver accountable.