Celebrate the Fourth of July Responsibly

July 4th will be celebrated this week commemorating the Declaration of Independence of the United States on July 4, 1776.  Many people will celebrate with parties, including fireworks.  While the majority of people celebrating will be responsible, some unfortunately will drive while intoxicated.  Drunk drivers are not only punished in Criminal Court, they are also responsible for paying Punitive damages in Civil Personal Injury lawsuits.  Punitive damages are not typically available in car accident cases. However, the accident victim may be awarded punitive damages when it is proven that the defendant driver (tortfeasor) caused the accident as result of his or her intoxication.  The purpose of the law is to punish drunk drivers.  The rationale is that if certain conduct will result in a large financial penalty because the conduct is considered harmful to society, people will less likely commit the conduct out of fear of reprisals.

To establish a claim for punitive damages under La. Civ. Code art. 2315.4, a party must establish the following elements: (1) that the defendant was intoxicated or had consumed a sufficient quantity of intoxicants to make him lose normal control of his mental and physical faculties; (2) that the intoxication was a cause-in-fact of the resulting injuries; and (3) that the injuries were caused by the defendant's wanton or reckless disregard for the rights and safety of others.

The burden of proving intoxication is on the party claiming injuries (plaintiff).  The Louisiana Supreme Court recently found that a plaintiff did not carry his burden of proof when only circumstantial evidence was admitted.  In that case, plaintiff relied only on his own testimony that the defendant driver was intoxicated because he was “nervous, sweaty and had “droopy” eyes.  Stephenson v. Hotard, 2019-0478 (La. 05/20/19).  To successfully prove intoxication, the plaintiff should admit evidence such as breathalyzer test results, blood alcohol test results, the odor of alcohol, inability to maintain bodily balance and slurred speech. 

“May we think of freedom, not as the right to do as we please, but as the opportunity to do what is right.” 

This is provided for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice.

Megan Kiefer