Am I entitled to Punitive Damages if I am Injured by a Drunk Driver?
In Florida, you may be entitled to punitive damages if you were injured by a someone who was driving under the influence. Punitive damages are intended to reform or deter the defendant and others from engaging in conduct that is the basis of the lawsuit. Put another way, punitive damages are meant to punish the defendant for his or her conduct. Punitive damages are awarded to the injured party in addition to any compensatory damages. Compensatory damages are meant to compensate a person for their injuries or loss while punitive damages are meant to punish a defendant for their behavior.
Florida Statutes 768.72 states that a defendant may be liable for punitive damages if the defendant was “personally guilty of intentional misconduct or gross negligence.” The Florida Supreme Court has held that the voluntary act of driving while intoxicated evinces a sufficiently reckless attitude for a jury to be asked to provide an award for punitive damages. In Florida, there is no cap on the amount of punitive damages that can be awarded to a plaintiff if, at the time of the incident in which punitive damages are sought, the defendant was intoxicated. Furthermore, insurance policies often do not insure for punitive damages, which would make a defendant personally liable for any punitive damages awarded to a plaintiff.
A bar or restaurant that serves someone alcohol may also be liable for the resulting injuries caused by the intoxicated person. Florida Statutes 768.125 states that a “person who willfully and unlawfully sells or furnishes alcoholic beverages to a person who is not of lawful drinking age or who knowingly serves a person habitually addicted to the use of any or all alcoholic beverages may become liable for injury or damage caused by or resulting from the intoxication of such minor or person.” Knowledge of a person’s age can be proved by circumstantial, as well as direct, evidence. If an institution fails to ID a minor and then sells alcohol to a minor who subsequently injures another person, the lack of identification can be used to circumstantially show that the institution willfully and unlawfully sold alcohol to a minor and hence would be liable to the person who was injured.