What Are Punitive Damages?

Punitive damages may be awarded in a personal injury or wrongful death lawsuit in Virginia. These damages serve two purposes: Punish especially egregious misconduct and deter the defendant or others from engaging in similar acts. These damages are sometimes referred to as “exemplary” damages.

In order to recover punitive damages, you must show that the defendant acted with “actual malice” or with “willful and wanton” negligence, meaning either a conscious disregard for the rights of others or reckless indifference to the consequences of the defendant’s actions.

Punitive damages often are sought in car accident cases that involve a drunk driver. A Virginia statute applies specifically to those types of cases.

No more than $350,000 in punitive damages can be awarded in any case.

If you have been harmed by another’s misconduct, the attorneys of Geoff McDonald & Associates will explore all options for your recovery, including punitive damages where warranted. For more than 20 years, our firm has stood up for the rights of injury victims and their families in Richmond and throughout Virginia. Contact a Richmond personal injury lawyer from our firm today to learn more about how we can assist you.

Punitive Damages in Virginia Drunk Driving Accident Cases

Drunk driving is a serious problem in Virginia and across the country. For instance, in one recent year, drunk driving caused 211 fatalities on Virginia roads, including 166 deaths that involved drivers with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.15 or higher, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

 Virginia Road Fatalities Graphic

As a way of addressing this issue, Virginia lawmakers crafted a statute in the 1990s that specifically establishes how punitive damages may be obtained in drunk driving accident cases.

Under this law, you can establish that a defendant’s conduct was “sufficiently willful or wanton as to show a conscious disregard for the rights of others” and recover punitive damages in a drunk driving accident case if you can prove that:

  • When the accident occurred, the defendant’s BAC was 0.15 or higher;
  • The defendant knew or should have known that his or her ability to operate a motor vehicle would be impaired at the time the defendant began drinking alcohol or during the time he or she was drinking alcohol; and
  • The defendant’s intoxication served as the “proximate cause” of the injury or death in your case.

What if the defendant “unreasonably” refuses to submit to a test that would determine his or her BAC? (This issue often arises in drunk driving accident cases.) Under the statute, the defendant’s intoxication could instead be proven by presenting evidence of his or her “conduct or condition.”