Appellate Court Addresses Punitive Damages in Georgia Drunk Driving Case

The state’s high court recently issued an opinion in a Georgia drunk driving accident. According to the court’s opinion, one of the defendants in the case was driving his cousin’s vehicle when he crashed into the plaintiff’s car. Evidently, the defendant was drinking with his cousin, when his cousin gave him his car keys and asked him to drive. The cousin knew that the defendant was intoxicated, did not have a driver’s license, and had a history of recklessness. The driver collided with the plaintiff’s car, resulting in serious injuries.

Following the accident, the plaintiff filed a lawsuit against the driver for negligence, and also the driver’s cousin for negligent entrustment. At trial, the court found that the defendants were acting while under the influence of alcohol and that they acted with willful misconduct, malice, and wantonness. The plaintiff challenged the punitive damages award he received.

Georgia law permits plaintiffs to obtain punitive damages in very limited circumstances. One such situation is in cases that involve intoxicated defendants. In these cases, the court will permit punitive damages to deter, penalize, or punish a defendant. Plaintiffs must establish by clear and convincing evidence that the defendants acted in a way that showed willful misconduct, malice, wantonness, and conscious indifference. Generally, Georgia limits the damage awards to $250,000, but there are exemptions in cases where the accident resulted from the defendant’s intoxication. The court may award punitive damages against an “active tortfeasor,” but not to other defendants in the action. However, the term “active tortfeasor” is not limited to drunk drivers.

In this case, the plaintiff argued that the statute should not bar his punitive damages claim against the defendant who permitted the driver to operate his vehicle while under the influence. Here, the appellate court analyzed the statute finding that the trial court erred in ruling that the law prohibits the jury from considering whether the non-driving defendant was an “active tortfeasor.” The court found that the relevant question is whether the defendant was intoxicated to the extent that his judgment was substantially impaired and if his actions were a proximate cause of the plaintiff’s injury. Thus, the appellate court held that the trial court erred in finding that a drunk driver was the sole active tortfeasor for purposes of punitive damages. As a result of the court’s opinion, the plaintiff may be able to pursue a claim for punitive damages against both the driver, as well as his cousin.

Have You Suffered Injuries Because of Drunk Driver in Georgia?

If you or someone you love has suffered injuries after a Georgia drunk driving accident, contact the experienced injury attorneys at McAleer Law. The attorneys at our law firm have successfully handled all types of personal injury cases, such as those involving vehicle collisions, workplace accidents, slip and falls, incidents of medical malpractice, and wrongful death claims. Our attorneys possess the knowledge, skills, and resources to handle all aspects of a Georgia personal injury lawsuit. Through our diligent representation, McAleer Law clients have recovered substantial amounts of compensation for their damages and losses. Compensation typically includes payments for medical bills, ongoing medical expenses, lost wages, and pain and suffering. Contact our office at 404-622-5337 to schedule a free initial consultation with an attorney at our law firm. You can also connect with us through our online form.