Damages in Drunk Driving Cases: A Different Story Entirely

In most car accident cases, the damages allowable are compensatory damages for pain and suffering, emotional distress, loss or wages, past and future medical expenses, etc.

However, causing an accident while driving while intoxicated is a different story entirely.

In 1979, the California Supreme Court extended punitive damages to drunk drivers. Taylor v. Superior Court (1979) 24 Cal. 3d 890.

The Court has noted that in order to justify an award of punitive damages under the theory of conscious disregard, the plaintiff must prove that the “defendant was aware of the probable dangerous consequences of his conduct, and that he willfully and deliberately failed to avoid those consequences.” Taylor v. Superior Court (1979) 24 Cal. 3d 890, 895, 896.

The Court further noted that an individual who willfully “consumes alcoholic beverages to the point of intoxication, knowing that he thereafter must operate a motor vehicle, thereby combining sharply impaired physical and mental faculties with a vehicle capable of great force and speed, reasonably may be held to exhibit a conscious disregard of the safety of others.” Taylor, at 896. The purpose of punitive damages is not only to punish for your actions, but also to deter any future like conduct. Taylor, at 897. Because punitive damages can be assessed in drunk driving cases, awards in drunk driving cases can be greatly increased.

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