video calls availableFree Consultation
Request Free Consultation

Punitive Damages May Deter San Diego’s Record Number of DUI Related Fatalities

Request Free Consultation
Posted on October 31, 2021

Fatal DUI Related Cases Rise in San Diego County

According to prosecutors and local law enforcement, deaths as a result of dui-related auto accidents are higher this year than they have been in two decades. 2020 also saw an increase in dui-related deaths, seeing a total increase to 33 deaths. This year, with nearly 3 months left, San Diego has already surpassed that number with 35 deaths.

As a result of these tragic and avoidable deaths, local officials have vowed to increase DUI prosecution and prevention. Punitive damages may be available in civil actions to help thwart potential drunk drivers from taking a drink and getting on the road and injury their passengers, pedestrians, or other drivers.

Local Officials Will Increase DUI Prosecution and Prevention

In order to combat these avoidable deaths, local officials aim to decrease drunk-driving in a few different ways.

The District Attorney’s office is set to receive a $530,600 grant from the Office of Traffic Safety. The money will be used to prosecute homicide DUI cases. It will also be used for prevention efforts. Training will be provided to law enforcement agencies. Awareness campaigns will be had around the county.

The awareness campaigns align with the CHP’s hope that drivers will willingly comply with the laws. CHP Border Division Chief Omar Watson stated, “By getting the message out, we are hoping for voluntary compliance from motorists.”

For those who don’t comply, law enforcement agencies will be conducting additional DUI checkpoints.

Those DUI-related incidents resulting in death are more frequently investigated as potential murders. San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan says, “This isn’t an accident. It is purposeful behavior that ends up with innocent people losing their lives.”

Punitive Damages May be Available to Further Deter Drunk Driving

Punitive damages are a concept in civil courts created to deter dangerous and harmful behavior. California’s seminal case allowing punitive damages in an drunk-driving related auto accident is Taylor v. Superior Court (1979) 24 Cal. 3d 892.

Prior to Taylor, the courts were conflicted over allowing punitive damages where a defendant had been drinking prior to the accident. Courts questioned whether drunk drivers had the requisite malice necessary to carry punitive damages. The thought being that while the act would clearly be negligent or grossly negligent, it wasn’t intentional and thereby couldn’t be malicious.

Taylor held that maliciousness was not the only basis for punitive damages. The Court held that a conscious disregard of the rights and safety of others could also be a basis. They then connected conscious disregard and drunk driving, “One who wilfully consumes alcoholic beverages to the point of intoxication, knowing that he thereafter must operate a motor vehicle, thereby combining sharply impaired physical and mental faculties with a vehicle capable of great force and speed, reasonably may be held to exhibit a conscious disregard of the safety of others.” Taylor at 897. This case law has served as the basis for punitive damages in drunk driving cases since.

In San Diego, where deaths related to DUIs are increasing and city officials and law enforcement are working to educate driver’s, the risk of drunk-driving is well known. This implies that those who do continue to drink and drive are doing so in reckless disregard of those around them. This in turn is the basis for seeking punitive damages against those whose dangerous choices results in harm to others.

The ultimate goal for all drivers should be to stop individuals from drinking and driving. If it requires getting into their pocket books to do so, then it should be done.

The information provided in this blog is not meant to be legal advice. It is provided as an informative guide only.  If you have any questions regarding a personal injury, contact a lawyer today. The attorneys at Haffner & Morgan offer no cost consultations and are happy to answer any questions you may have.