If My Auto Accident Was Caused by a Drunk Driver, Am I Entitled to Punitive Damages?

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Victims of North Carolina auto accidents are entitled to recover a variety of damages. While most of the damages that auto accident plaintiffs recover are considered compensatory damages (i.e., damages intended to compensate a plaintiff for their injuries, expenses, pain, or suffering), another type of damages are available to drunk driving victims. If your accident was caused by a drunk driver, you might also be entitled to punitive damages. Unlike compensatory damages, punitive damages are not meant to compensate a plaintiff; instead, punitive damages are meant to punish the defendant for their conduct.

In general terms, North Carolina law permits punitive damages in any case in which the defendant engages in “gross negligence.” (Yancey v. Lea, 354 N.C. 48 (2001)). In 2001, the Yancey court defined “gross negligence” as negligence involving a defendant’s “conscious disregard of the safety of others.” (See Yancey, 354 N.C. at 48.) In this case, the court went on to list three common scenarios that qualify as “gross negligence,” and in which punitive damages might be permitted:

  1. Cases where the defendant was driving while impaired or intoxicated;
  2. Cases where the defendant was driving at an excessive speed; and
  3. Cases where the defendant was engaged in a racing competition.

(See Yancey, 354 N.C. at 48.)

Therefore, if your accident was caused by a drunk driver, then North Carolina law permits you to seek punitive damages against the defendant. Punitive damages can be critically important to your case, and critically important in your effort to make yourself whole following your accident.

Finally, it is important to remember that North Carolina has statutorily removed any cap or limit to punitive damages in cases involving drunk driving. (See N.C. Gen. Stat. § 1D-26.) Therefore, while certain other types of damages are capped, limiting the amount you are entitled to recover, there is no legal limit to the amount of punitive damages you can recover in your drunk driving auto accident case.

If you would like a free evaluation of your personal injury case, please feel free to contact Kreger Brodish and schedule a free appointment with one of our personal injury attorneys.