Driving Under the Influence or DUI continues to be a serious problem in the Atlanta, Georgia area.  It is bad enough when you are injured in a wreck that you did not cause; but, emotionally, it can be much worse when someone hits you who was drinking or is DUI.  These cases are handled differently in our office.  The law allows you to seek punitive damages in cases where someone shows a reckless disregard for the safety of others.  This is not just regular careless behavior, but, deliberately doing something that endangers others.  Examples other than drinking and driving would be hit-and-run incidents and reckless driving. 

Punitive damages are damages designed to discourage bad behavior.  The law makes it so that in addition to normal damages of medical bills, medical treatment, lost wages and pain and suffering, that you can seek additional damages.  My office does this in every DUI victim case. 

Many aspects of your case are handled the same as a regular case.  We have to set up the claim, collect your medical records and make sure that we help you to get well.  The additional things we have to do beings with monitoring the criminal case.  We have to find out if the person who struck you pled guilty or was found guilty by the court.  We have to get a copy of the court disposition paperwork showing what the sentence was from the court.  This can provide us with an idea of whether or not this was the first DUI this person had.  We have to request the file under the Georgia Open Records Act from the solicitor.  There may be additional information in it about the defendant's behavior and conduct.  If we receive notice of any other prior DUI's, we would need to research those cases to find out what happened.  

Occasionally, there are other additional things that need to be done.  Sometimes a defendant is placed on probation.  If that is the case, we can request a copy of that file.  It may show some additional behavior that is illegal.  If there is a later DUI, we need to find out what happens in that case.  Sometimes, in a larger policy case it is necessary to file a lawsuit to get full discovery.  Maybe we can find out where the defendant began to drink that night.  Maybe he continues to drive to a bar and drink.  This can be used to show that they have not learned anything from your accident.  We look for anything that can be used to show that the defendant has not learned their lesson from hurting you.

This type of investigation gives us an opportunity to maximize the value of your case.  We push very hard on all of our cases; but, in a DUI victim case, our experience allows us to help our clients achieve very good settlements.  A thorough investigation is needed though.  If you cannot present the facts of the situation to the insurance company, you will not get a good offer.  You certainly will not get the full value of the case.  I have never talked to a client who was a DUI victim where the insurance company offered them any punitive damages before they hired a lawyer.

As a small side note, these punitive damages can even be available under Georgia law for property damage only cases.  This means that even if you were not injured, the courts have agreed that DUI is so dangerous to society that they will punish the person more even if you were not injured.  Call us to talk about this situation, as it can be difficult to get the insurance company to agree.

Shane Smith
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Advocate for the Seriously Injured in Georgia

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