How is Damage Compensation Awarded in a DUI Accident?

Individuals harmed due to the negligent actions of an impaired driver are often able to recover compensation for their medical expenses, property damage losses, lost wages, and pain and suffering damages. In very specific circumstances, individuals may be able to recover punitive damages after sustaining a personal injury in Tennessee.

How is Damage Compensation Awarded in a DUI Accident?

How Does Tennessee Define Punitive Damages?

In Tennessee, punitive damages serve as a form of punishment for egregious conduct and to deter similar actions in the future. These damages are considered when the defendant’s behavior is found to be “malicious, fraudulent, intentional, or recklessly indifferent to the rights of others.”

Tennessee law, specifically under Section 29-39-104, outlines clear guidelines for awarding punitive damages, emphasizing that this compensation is only granted in exceptional cases where the defendant’s conduct exceeds normal negligence.

Is Drunk Driving Negligent Enough to Warrant Punitive Damages

Individuals may be more likely to recover punitive damages after a DUI accident than other types of vehicle accidents, but that is by no means a guarantee. Cases involving those who operate vehicles under the influence of alcohol usually involve individuals who know that driving impaired is illegal. Every driver knows that they cannot operate a vehicle while impaired by alcohol or drugs. In the event the investigation shows that a person was driving under the influence of alcohol, this could satisfy the high burden needed to obtain punitive damages for the claim.

Your DUI accident lawyer will work to obtain all of the evidence needed to prove liability and argue for punitive damages. This will include not only gathering typical vehicle accident evidence, such as photographs and witness statements but also proof of any citations issued to the drivers involved, as well as any DUI arrests made.

How Much Compensation is Available?

In 2011, the governor of Tennessee signed the Tennessee Civil Justice Act into law, and this law placed a limit on how much punitive damages could be awarded. This law limited punitive damages to two times the compensatory damages awarded in the claim or $500,000, whichever was greater. However, the US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit ruled in the 2018 case, Lindenberg v. Jackson National Life Insurance Company, that these caps on damages were unconstitutional under the Tennessee Constitution.

This does not have a binding precedent on the state courts in Tennessee. However, the Tennessee Supreme Court did form an official opinion on the case, and it ruled that the Tennessee constitution gives plaintiffs the right to have their case heard by a jury trial. The cap on punitive damages does not get communicated to the jury and only gets applied to the award after the fact by the judge. Thus, the Tennessee Supreme Court, through this ruling, upheld the cap on punitive damages.

Will You Need an Attorney for Help?

We strongly encourage you to speak to an attorney if you have any questions about the compensation available after a DUI accident occurs in Tennessee. The process of recovering compensation from a DUI accident is challenging to begin with, and this becomes especially true if you begin seeking punitive damages.

Recovering compensatory damages for things like medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering damages is challenging in and of itself. Recovering this compensation involves conducting an extensive investigation into the incident, significant back-and-forth negotiations with an insurance carrier or other parties, and possibly even a jury trial.

When discussing punitive damages, which will come up during the process of investigating the claim, an attorney will likely be very honest with you about what to expect. If there is a possibility of securing punitive damages, your attorney will tell you. However, punitive damages are hard to obtain. The most important aspect of an injury claim is recovering the compensatory damages you need to become as “whole” as possible, meaning this process should help get you back to the health you enjoyed before the incident occurred.

When Do You Have to Request Punitive Damages?

Requesting punitive damages in a DUI accident claim in Tennessee typically occurs at the initial stages of filing a lawsuit. The plaintiff (usually through their attorney) must explicitly state the request for these damages in their complaint against the defendant. It is crucial to do this early in the process because punitive damages are awarded under specific circumstances (as discussed above). The process requires a detailed presentation of evidence to prove such conduct, guiding the court’s decision on whether punitive damages are justified. 

As we also mentioned above, your attorney will almost certainly let you know whether or not they think punitive damages are an option for your particular case. We encourage you to work with an attorney who has extensive experience handling difficult DUI injury claims in Tennessee. A personal injury lawyer will understand the steps needed to recover compensation to help you move forward. The most important aspects of this are the economic and non-economic compensatory damages. Recovering this type of compensation is typically much easier than guaranteeing punitive damages.

How Quickly Do You Need to File Your Claim?

Generally, DUI accident victims need to file their claims as promptly as possible. In Tennessee, the personal injury statute of limitations clearly states that claims should be filed within one year from the date the incident occurs. However, there are some exceptions to this. We encourage you to speak to your Nashville car accident lawyer about possible extensions if needed. 

In addition to filing a personal injury lawsuit against an alleged negligent driver, you will likely also have an insurance claim in process. The auto insurance carriers involved typically prefer the claims be reported as soon as possible after the incident occurs. However, when you make your initial claim with your insurance carrier, do not go into much detail. DUI accident cases are complex, and it could take quite some time to understand the magnitude of the overall expenses associated with the incident. A quick settlement will not always be the best route toward recovering maximum compensation.