Woman Charged with DUI in Fatal Accident: Are Punitive Damages Available in Illinois?

Woman Charged with DUI in Fatal Accident: Are Punitive Damages Available in Illinois?

A Chicago woman is facing serious charges after being arrested for drunk driving in a horrific crash that killed a pedestrian in the early morning hours of April 8, 2018. According to a report in the Chicago Sun-Times, the female victim had just parked her car and was crossing the street when she was struck. Upon impact, her body was tossed up in the air and onto the hood of the accused’s vehicle. The woman called 911 and remained at the scene, where police gave her a breathalyzer test and eventually made the arrest. Aside from the criminal charges for DUI, the family of the deceased victim may have a claim for wrongful death under Illinois law. There is a common presumption that punitive damages are available these cases where the responsible party’s conduct was criminal, but there are complicated issues at stake.

Overview of Punitive Damages

In a personal injury case, victims may recover damages to compensate them for such losses as medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering. Where the responsible party engaged in conduct that was particularly egregious, criminal, or outrageously reckless, an injured victim may also seek punitive damages. These damages are intended to punish the wrongdoer and deter others from similar conduct.

Illinois Law on Punitive Damages

The source of punitive damages in personal injury cases is the state’s jury instructions, which are directions read to jurors before they head off to deliberate about key issues. The instruction on punitive damages states that the jury may opt to award them in addition to compensatory damages where the responsible party’s actions were intentional, fraudulent, or willful and wanton. When determining whether to award punitive damages, and how much, jurors may consider such factors as:

  • The entirety of the defendant’s conduct;
  • How long the misconduct lasted;
  • Whether there is misconduct in the defendant’s past;
  • The actual and potential harm caused by the defendant; and,
  • How an award of punitive damages may deter other people from engaging in the conduct.

If successful in meeting the standards of the jury instructions, the victim may recover an exponentially larger award of damages. There is no cap on punitive damages in Illinois, so your total award may be much more than necessary to compensate you for your economic and non-economic losses.

In the case of the Chicago woman killed by a drunk driver, these factors may not support a finding for punitive damages. She made a mistake, but there was no indication of willful and wanton conduct in hitting the victim. In addition, she called 911 to get medical help for the victim and remained on the scene, despite knowing that there would be consequences for DUI.

Discuss Punitive Damages with a Skilled Personal Injury Attorney

While the recent accident involving DUI may not be enough to obtain punitive damages, these cases tend to be very fact-specific because of the factors jurors must weigh. Our experienced lawyers at Michael T. Friedman & Associates know what types of evidence will increase the likelihood of punitive damages, so please contact our Chicago office to schedule a consultation regarding your case.

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