Drunk Driving Accidents

Drunk Driving Accidents

It's easy to think that a car accident caused by a drunk driver is much like any other negligence accident. But there are many differences. Car wrecks caused a drunk driver can have critical factual and legal differences. Matt Vance knows drunk driving accident cases, knows the differences, and can aggressively represent you to hold the drunk driver responsible for their reckless, wanton conduct.

Factually, there is a lot more investigation that must be done. There are more facts to gather. There are more witnesses, including witness which may be part of the criminal DWI case against the drunk driver. There will be additional DWI investigative reports from the responding police department. There may be lapel video, booking photos, and booking sheet, which are part of the criminal case, but will help meaningfully in the civil claim. There will be records and documents, which are part of the criminal case file but will provide valuable information when it comes time to present the insurance claim to the liability carrier or uninsured/underinsured motorist carrier. Leave no stone unturned.

Legally, the drunk driving element can require additional evidence to prove the negligence per se - Driving While Intoxicated. Drunk drivers aren't just negligent; they are reckless, willful and wanton. That means you are entitled to seek punitive damages against the insurance companies involved, including your own. New Mexico Uniform Jury Instruction 13-1827 describes punitive damages to a jury as follows:

UJI 13-1827NMRA. Punitive damages; direct and vicarious liability.

Malicious conduct is the intentional doing of a wrongful act with knowledge that the act was wrongful.

Willful conduct is the intentional doing of an act with knowledge that harm may result.

Reckless conduct is the intentional doing of an act with utter indifference to the consequences.

Wanton conduct is the doing of an act with utter indifference to or conscious disregard for a person's [rights] [safety].

Punitive damages are awarded for the limited purposes of punishment and to deter others from the commission of like offenses. The amount of punitive damages must be based on reason and justice taking into account all the circumstances, including the nature of the wrong and such aggravating and mitigating circumstances as may be shown. The amount awarded, if any, must be reasonably related to the injury and to any damages given as compensation and not disproportionate to the circumstances.

A successful claim and proof of punitive damages can significantly increase the value of a case. Because of the primary aim of punitive damages to punish a wrongdoer and deter others from similar conduct, even in cases where there is a relatively low award of compensatory damages, a substantial award of punitive damages may be entirely appropriate to punish a defendant and generally deter others.    See Chavarria v. Fleetwood Retail Corporation of New Mexico, 2006-NMSC-29, ¶ 37. There is no bright line rule limiting punitive damages to a single-digit multiplier of compensatory damages awarded. See Chavarria v. Fleetwood Retail Corporation of New Mexico, 2006-NMSC-29, ¶ 38. Rather, punitive damages are to depend upon the circumstances of the particular case and the enlightened conscience of the fact-finder. See id.

The drunk driving and claim for punitive damages may affect insurance coverage. Many liability insurance carriers are taking the position that an automobile liability insurance policy excludes coverage for punitive damages. You or your attorney must take that in to consideration when evaluating uninsured/under-insured motorist coverage, off-sets, and whether to settle with the tortfeasor, the at-fault driver, or not. If litigation, a lawsuit, becomes necessary, you and your attorney will have to make strategic decisions about what parties to name in the lawsuit; will it be against the tortfeasor, the tortfeasor's liability carrier, and your uninsured/underinsured motorist carrier all at the same time? Who you sue, when and how, could substantively affect your rights and your ability to make a full and complete recovery for the damages you have suffered.

The Law Office of Matthew Vance, P.C., is recognized as one of Albuquerque's prominent DWI accident injury firms. I represent clients throughout New Mexico. Contact me today. Don't take a chance - call Matt Vance!

I represent clients in all types of motor vehicle accidents involving drunk driver negligence, including:

A Note About Passenger Injuries in a Drunk Driving Accident or Crash

Many people don't know that they can sue for damages against the driver of the car they were riding in as a passenger, even if their driver was driving drunk or caused the accident. Passengers can and do have a claim against the driver of the vehicle in which they were riding, if that driver was negligent or reckless - including driving while intoxicated. In the event your driver was uninsured, you may still be able to collect damages from your own uninsured or underinsured coverage. Dram shop and social host laws may also apply. You may be able to seek compensation from the bar, restaurant or social host that served your driver excessive alcohol.

Auto Insurance Property Claims

Dealing with your insurance company to file a claim for collision damage following an accident with a drunk, uninsured driver isn't supposed to be difficult. Victims often accept a low settlement, just to make the problem finally go away. In addition to recovering the money you are owed for the total loss or repair of your vehicle, you can also receive significant punitive damages even when you were not injured because of a drunk driver. You may be entitled to punitive damages on a property damage only claim when the at-fault driver was DWI.

In setting the amount of punitive damages, a jury is entitled to consider the total extent of the harms and losses cause, including property damage. The amount of punitive damages to be awarded are to take into account all the circumstances, including the nature of the wrong and such aggravating or mitigating circumstances as may be shown. See Chavarria v. Fleetwood Retail Corporation of New Mexico, 2006-NMSC-29, ¶ 36. The degree of the reprehensibility of a defendant's conduct is an important factor in determining the amount of punitive damages to be awarded.    See State Farm Mut. Auto Ins. Co. v. Campbell, 538 U.S. 408, 419 (2003). In cases where the conduct of the offender is proscribed by criminal statute, (like Driving While Intoxicated), and is punishable by a jail sentence, such conduct justifies a substantial award of punitive damages in the civil context. See Chavarria v. Fleetwood Retail Corporation of New Mexico, 2006-NMSC-29, ¶ 39. Further, the award shall take into consideration the nature of the injury and any damages given as compensation to the victim. See    Chavarria v. Fleetwood Retail Corporation of New Mexico, 2006-NMSC-29, ¶ 36.

Most insurance companies will not tell you that you can recover punitive damages even in cases where your only losses are property damages. They will not check your policy for you. They will want to pay for your vehicle, as a total loss or repair, and be done with it. They will fail to tell you that you may have a legal right to punitive damages against an uninsured drunk driver. They will avoid paying you damages you are legally entitled to.

When insurance companies practice in bad faith, I work to hold them accountable. See my page on Insurance Bad Faith.

Contact my office to arrange a free consultation about your drunk driving accident injury or wrongful death claim today. Don't take a chance - call Matt Vance!