Hundreds are killed and thousands are injured each year in drunk driving accidents in Wisconsin. As reported by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, a driver was recently arrested on suspicion of third-offense driving under the influence after turning his jeep into oncoming traffic, seriously injuring four.

A 73-year-old man from Palatine, Illinois was driving a Subaru minivan with three passengers westbound on US Highway 12 in the Town of Whitewater on a Saturday evening this spring. A 26-year-old driver of a Jeep Cherokee was traveling eastbound on the same highway. At the intersection with County Highway North, the Jeep driver turned his vehicle in front of the oncoming westbound Subaru, causing a two-car collision.

The driver of the jeep was arrested on suspicion of third-offense drunk driving and four counts of causing great bodily harm while driving drunk. The Walworth County Sheriff’s Department is seeking additional charges against the Jeep driver for open intoxicants in his vehicle, inattentive driving, and failure to yield the right of way while making a left turn.

Serious injuries suffered by victims of DUI

The elderly driver of the minivan, along with his three passengers, were trapped and had to be extricated. All four suffered broken bones and/or critical internal injuries, requiring each of them to be hospitalized.

This tragic car accident illustrates the shattering effects of an accident caused by drunk driving. The injustice to those injured or killed in such an accident is only heightened when they discover that the drunk driver has been convicted multiple times in the past for DUI.

Such outrageous conduct is particularly prevalent in Wisconsin, which has the highest rate of drunken driving in the nation, according to the Wisconsin Department of Transportation. There were more than 44,000 convictions for drunken driving offenses in the state last year.

Recovering punitive damages against a drunk driver

In such cases, damages compensating for the victims’ injuries are not the only remedy. The victims may also seek an award of punitive damages. The purpose of punitive damages under Wisconsin law is to punish the wrongdoer and deter him or her from engaging in the same misconduct in the future.

Under the Wisconsin statute governing punitive damages, a drunk driver can be held liable for an award of punitive damages where he or she acts maliciously towards the injured party or acts with intentional disregard for the injured party’s rights. A drunk driver acts with intentional disregard for an injured person’s rights if:

  • The driver’s conduct is deliberate; that is, the driver voluntarily chose to drink and drive.
  • The driver’s act or conduct actually disregards the injured party’s rights; ordinarily, drinking and driving disregards the injured party’s right to safely use the highway.
  • The driver’s act or conduct is “sufficiently aggravated” to warrant punitive damages.

Aggravating factors include multiple prior convictions for a DUI and a high level of intoxication at the time of the accident.

No monetary cap for punitive damages against a drunk driver

Generally, the Wisconsin statute governing punitive damages caps such damages at no more than twice the compensatory damages or $200,000, whichever is greater. This cap, however, does not apply to punitive damages awards against drunk drivers.

If you are injured or lose a loved one in a motor vehicle accident involving a drunk driver, you should contact an experienced personal injury attorney who can obtain full and fair compensation for your injuries, and, if appropriate, pursue an award of punitive damages against the DUI driver.