Despite the efforts to raise public consciousness about the dangers of drunk driving, people continue to drive while intoxicated in Austin and elsewhere. The most severe consequences of a drunk driver’s poor choices are often left to be borne by his innocent victims. I am an Austin based lawyer dedicated to standing up for the victims of DWI or drunk drivers.
Austin DWI aka Drunk Driving cases in Austin present unique legal challenges. Unlike other auto cases, the Austin DWI or Austin drunk driver is often facing serious criminal charges. You will have more complicated litigation that runs along parallel paths—both criminal and civil. At the outset, as an attorney representing an Austin DWI or drunk driving victim, I will work to secure as much information as I can relating to the DWI charge in Austin. The offense report will show the conclusions of the investigating officer. If a breath test or blood sample was taken, the report will show the level of intoxication. The offense report may show the results of any field sobriety test.
In addition to the offense report, Austin DWI cases often have important video evidence that needs to be secured. The investigating officer’s dash camera may show the results of the field sobriety test, which could become powerful evidence if the case needs to be tried to a jury. After arrested, video of the drunk driver’s ride to the police station often contains important admissions or other visual evidence of the driver’s intoxication.
In an Austin DWI case, you have different sets of potential defendants. In addition to the drunk driver, a claim may exist against the bar or store that served the drunk. In the 1987, the Texas Legislature enacted the Dram Shop Act, which created a duty (not recognized at common law) on alcohol providers and increased the potential liability of providers as a means of deterring providers from serving obviously intoxicated individuals. Specifically, Section 2.02(b) of the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Code, makes it illegal for a bar to serve its patrons who are “obviously intoxicated to the extent that he presented a clear danger to himself and others.” To succeed in a Dram Shop case, an investigation needs to be undertaken to determine who provided the drunk his last drinks, and when he was served. A toxicologist will often need to be retained to project the Austin DWI driver’s level of intoxication at the time he was served his last drink.
Finally, unlike other auto accident cases, Austin DWI or drunk driving cases present the possibility of an award of punitive damages. A jury is asked whether the harm to the victim was the result of the drunk driver’s gross negligence. The legal definition of gross negligence contains two parts: one part objective, one part subjective. The objective part asks if the conduct, “when viewed objectively from the standpoint of Drunk Driver at the time of its occurrence involved an extreme degree of risk, considering the probability and magnitude of the potential harm to others.” The subjective definition asks if “Drunk Driver had actual, subjective awareness of the risk involved, but nevertheless proceeded with conscious indifference to the rights, safety, or welfare of others.” Most people know that DWI or drunk driving whether in Austin or anywhere else creates an extreme risk of harm. Mothers Against Drunk Driving has done a wonderful job of raising public consciousness about the dangers of DWI and drunk driving. Moreover, DWI or drunk driving isn’t just dangerous, it is criminal. Texas criminal law makes it illegal to operate a motor vehicle with a blood alcohol concentration greater than 0.08. (Texas Penal Code §49.04).
If a jury in Austin (or any other city) determines that the drunk driver’s conduct was grossly negligent, it can make an award of punitive (or exemplary) damages. Punitive damages are defined as “damages awarded as a penalty or by way of punishment but not for compensatory purposes.” The purpose of these damages is to send a message, either to this defendant or to the public in general, to deter similar conduct (DWI or drunk driving) in the future.
Like other forms of non-economic damages, there is no precise formula for determining the amount of punitive damages a jury is likely to award. Determinations of punitive damages are case specific. Factors that influence the amount a jury may award will be influenced by the drunk driver’s history, whether he has repeated DWI offenses in the Austin area or anywhere else that he has failed to learn from, whether he is contrite or unapologetic about his conduct, and his willingness to accept full responsibility for the consequences of his conduct.
Tort reform has produced upper limits on the amount of punitive damages that a jury can award. There are statutory limits on punitive damages, as well as constitutional limits on the amount of any award. Because this is a complicated area of the law, an experienced Austin personal injury attorney should be consulted to assess the availability or amount of punitive damages in any particular Austin DWI case.
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