One of the most frustrating things we face as plaintiff’s lawyers is being constrained by insurance limits. The amount of insurance coverage has no basis in law on the amount of fair compensation due to injured Georgians who have been harmed by the negligence of others- but practically speaking, it often impacts how much we can recover on behalf of our clients. Most individual defendants are “judgment proof”- meaning either they do not have any money or anything of value, or they will declare bankruptcy if a judgment is rendered against them. Thus, the amount of insurance coverage is often the only money available to compensate injured victims. This can be particularly troubling in DUI cases, where intoxicated drivers can cause immense harm to innocent victims.
You will often see insurance policies described by three numbers, such as “50/100/50.” These numbers correspond to the insurance limits for the various claims that arise from negligent crashes:
The first number indicates the amount of coverage available to any one person for personal injuries per crash ($50,000);
the second number indicates the amount of total coverage available for personal injuries per crash, regardless of how many injured persons are involved ($100,000), and;
the third number indicates the total amount of coverage available for property damage claims per crash ($50,000).
The minimum required automobile liability insurance limits in Georgia are 25/50/25, or $25,000 for personal injury coverage for one person per crash, $50,000 in total coverage for personal injuries per crash, and $25,000 for property damage claims per crash.
The Different Types of Claims that Arise from Car Crashes
In a typical car crash case, you will have two types of claims: personal/bodily injury claims and property damage claims. Personal injury means just that- injuries to a person. These claims consist of special damages (cost of medical treatment, lost wages, etc.) and general damages (pain and suffering, interference with normal living, impairment of bodily vigor, shock of impact, mental anguish, and other components). Property damage claims consist of damage to property- often, the cost to repair the damaged vehicle or the value of the vehicle if it cannot be repaired.
The damages stemming from these claims are called “compensatory damages,” meaning they are designed to compensate or “make whole” the persons injured by the negligence of the tortfeasor.
Punitive damages claims are different; rather than being designed to compensate the injured party, they are meant to punish the tortfeasor. Punitive damages are only available in cases where the defendant’s actions showed “willful misconduct, malice, fraud, wantonness, oppression, or that entire want of care which would raise the presumption of conscious indifference to consequences.” GA. Code 51-12-5.1 Basically, instead of simply being negligent, the defendant’s actions were either intentional or egregious in nature.
Georgia courts have consistently held that punitive damages are available in cases where a tortfeasor causes a crash while driving intoxicated. See e.g., Webster v. Boyett, 269 Ga. 191 (1998). In fact, in cases where the tortfeasors were driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, there is no cap to the amount of punitive damages that can be awarded by a jury. Punitive damages can be awarded in relation to a personal injury claim or a property damage claim, as long as there are underlying compensatory damages.
Demand Punitive Damages on Property Damage Claim
So what does all this mean for DUI cases where there is not enough insurance coverage? Your attorney should demand punitive damages on the property damage claim rather than on the bodily injury claim.
Let us use an example: Say an intoxicated driver crashes into another vehicle and injures an innocent person. The injured person’s bodily injuries are worth $100,000, while his car was only worth $5,000. However, the drunk driver only had 50/100/50 coverage limits.
A less experienced attorney might settle this case for the limits of the bodily injury coverage ($50,000) and $5,000 for the property damage claim. This results in a total recovery of $55,000, leaving a significant shortfall in the amount of fair compensation due to the injured victim.
A seasoned attorney will demand $50,000 for the bodily injury claim but not claim punitive damages related to this claim. Instead, the seasoned attorney will demand punitive damages relating to the property damage claim ($5,000 for the vehicle and $45,000 in punitive damages). This results in a total recovery of $100,000- $45,000 more than if the punitive damages had been attached to the bodily injury claim. This is just one of many reasons why you should only trust your personal injury claim to experienced personal injury attorneys with proven results.
Contact Rafi Law Firm
The lawyers at the Rafi Law Firm are experienced in handling all aspects of motor vehicle accidents. Rafi Law Firm has achieved significant financial results on behalf of its clients. If you or someone you know was injured in an accident involving a drunk driver, call 404-800-1156 for a free consultation.