If you’re involved in a drunk driving accident, the first thing you should do is get checked out at the hospital and make sure that you’re not injured. If you are injured, you need to get whatever treatment that the ER doctors tell you that you need to get and any follow-up treatment that they tell you that you need to get. If you need to go to the orthopedic center, or if you need to go to a neurologist or a neurosurgeon or whatever it may be, you need to get all of the treatment that the doctors tell you that you need to get.
All of the fact-finding information, gathering type of things that happen after a drunk driving accident will be taken care of by the trooper, the Virginia State trooper, or the local police officer who’s investigating the accident. They’ll do things like a field sobriety test on the person who hit you or a breathalyzer test. And if those tests indicate that the person was impaired or driving while intoxicated, they’ll take them down and do a full-on breath test or a blood test to determine what that person’s blood alcohol content will be.
The trooper or the officer will take care of all of that information, but it’s important to stay involved in that process, through that criminal prosecution process, because what happens, in that case, is also very important to what happens in your civil case. In Virginia, if you’re injured by a drunk driver, you’re entitled to a lot of the same damages that you would be entitled to if you’re injured through the negligence of another person, and there was no drunk driving involved. So for example, your medical expenses and lost wages, and loss of earning capacity, we call those economic damages. So those are damages that you can easily put a dollar number on, and you could present that to the jury and the jury clearly sees what this damage is.
But you’re also entitled to what we call noneconomic damages. Those are things like pain and suffering, mental anguish, inconvenience, and these things are in the past and in the future. You’re entitled to damages for past inconvenience, just like you’re entitled to damages for the inconvenience that you may suffer in the future. So all of those things are called noneconomic damages, and we’ll attempt to put a dollar number on those as we get closer to trial in your case, or as we are trying to settle the case. But if you’re injured by a drunk driver, you’re also entitled to what we call punitive damages. Punitive damages exist for three reasons.
- to punish the defendant for engaging in the behavior that caused your injuries.
- to deter that person from engaging in that type of behavior again.
- to send a message to the public, that type of behavior is not tolerated in the Commonwealth of Virginia.
There is a statute in Virginia that captured punitive damages at $350,000. So in those cases where the conduct is so egregious that punitive damages are warranted, we’ll go after that entire amount. Some cases are worse than others, and there is a scale, if you will, of what punitive damages are appropriate in any given case. And every case is different, but the cap in Virginia is $350,000. There’s also a statute that allows for punitive damages if the defendant’s blood alcohol content is 0.15 or higher. What that means is, if when they get to the hospital or to the police station, and they do the official test for the defendant’s blood alcohol content if it registers at higher than 0.15, then automatically, if his or her alcohol consumption is what led to the accident, then you’re automatically entitled to punitive damages. And the jury will be instructed to award you punitive damages if that is the evidence that’s presented in the case.
Be Sure to Tell Your Side of the Story
It’s important to tell your story to the Virginia state police trooper or the local officer who’s investigating the accident. Also, be sure to show up at the court hearing, the driving under the influence, the DUI court hearing, the criminal case, to make sure that your voice is heard in that process. So the judge knows how this accident affected you and what has happened since the accident and what happens at that hearing whether the defendant pleads not guilty, or whether the defendant pleads guilty or no contest is important to your civil case down the road. So it’s important to consult with an attorney before that and make sure that you know everything that needs to happen to protect yourself in the civil case later on down the road.
One of the most vital things that you need to do after an accident is to make sure that you go get the treatment that your doctors say that you need to get. If you don’t get the treatment, your case value will suffer because of it. If your doctors say you need an injection, or if your doctors say you need physical therapy or surgery, you need to go get that treatment in order to get better. If you don’t do that, your case will suffer.