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Drunk Drivers and Motorcycle Accidents – Punitive Damages

DRUNK DRIVERS September 20, 2021

Over the years, I have had a dramatic increase in motorcycle accident cases caused by drunk drivers. These cases include left-turn cases, unsafe lane changes and even rear-end collisions in broad daylight.  

In 2016, 10,497 people died in alcohol impaired driving crashes accounting for 28% of all traffic-related deaths in the United States. 

With other motorcycle collisions, clients are entitled to get paid for:

  • Your motorcycle property damage or if “totaled” – the Actual Cash Value (ACV);
  • Your past and future medical bills;
  • Your lost wages and loss of future earnings; and
  • Money for pain and suffering for ALL of your hams and losses.

However, if the driver at fault was a Drunk Driver, you may also be entitled to what are called “Punitive Damages” under California Civil Code §3294.

Punitive Damages is money intended to punish the Drunk Driver and to send a clear message to the Drunk Driver that society does not tolerate Drunk Drivers in an attempt to prevent drunk driving in the future. 

So how does one get Punitive Damages in a motorcycle collision case? It’s not easy.

First, one must get not only the Traffic Collision Report but the DUI Arrest Report. This is difficult and will most likely require the filing of civil lawsuit and then issuing a Subpoena Duces Tecum – a formal subpoena to have the custodian at the police department appear and produce the report. 

As a side note, if a District Attorney calls, that means that they are investigating the collision and they may file a criminal complaint against the Drunk Driver. It is important that you return the call form the D.A., cooperate and advise them of your injuries and for them document to support your damages (medical bills and property damage). A DUI with injuries may be prosecuted as a felony. 

But just because someone was intoxicated, caused a collision and there were injuries does not automatically entitle you to punitive damages in your civil case or claim. 

It is important to also note that punitive damages are not covered by insurance. Otherwise, it would defeat the purpose and legislative intent of “sending a message” and some would make the decision to drive drunk with no financial consequences. 

As such, before making a decision to file a complaint, I would highly recommend conducting a detailed asset search to see if the alleged Drunk Driver has any assets, income or equity in real property that may satisfy a future judgment for punitive damages.  The other reason is that the drunk driver’s insurance company will fight “tooth and nail” to protect their insured from a judgment for punitive damages. It is my experience that a valid claim and cause of action alleging punitive damages may expedite settlement to avoid exposing their insured to personal judgment. 

If a civil lawsuit is filed it must allege specific facts as to the intoxicated driver. According to the leading case of Taylor v. Superior Court (1979) 24 Cal. 3d 893, a civil complaint seeking punitive damages must allege and prove that the driver acted with “malice” meaning must prove at trial that:   

  1. The Defendant drank alcohol;
  2. The Defendant knew he/she would drive after drinking alcohol;
  3. The Defendant drove while intoxicated;
  4. The Defendant knew the probable consequences of driving drunk; and
  5. The Defendant willfully and deliberately failed to avoid those consequences.

For example one must show that the driver had a history of alcoholism, been arrested and convicted for drunk driving on numerous prior occasions or some sort of circumstances showing “aggravation or outrage” such as “driving in a highly reckless manner” in a “vehicle capable of great force and speed” with “absolute disregard and callous indifference to the rights and safety of others.” 

If you or a loved one have been involved in a motorcycle accident involving a drunk driver, please call Tom Reinecke – at (800) 275-8326.

About Thomas G. “Tom” Reinecke: 

Since 1987, Tom Reinecke has been the highest rated California Motorcycle attorney. A graduate of UCLA, former Superior Court Judge Pro Tem, and Author of California Motorcycle Law, Tom has successfully handled thousands of motorcycle accident and injury cases.   

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