This article is the third in a series of articles discussing why the injury lawyers at Tate Rehmet Law Office typically file a lawsuit against drunk drivers when we represent someone who a drunk driver has injured. This article explains that our lawyers allege both negligence and gross negligence in the lawsuit against the drunk driver. Drunk driving fits well within the definitions of negligence and gross negligence under Texas and Oklahoma law and it is advantageous to allege both causes of actions.
Most people are generally familiar with the idea of negligence and understand that it means someone was unreasonably careless and caused damage to another person. Under Texas law, negligence is a cause of action which has a particular definition. A cause of action is legal jargon meaning proper legal grounds that will support a lawsuit. Negligence is defined as follows:
“Negligence” means failure to use ordinary care, that is, failing to do that which a person of ordinary prudence would have done under the same or similar circumstances or doing that which a person of ordinary prudence would not have done under the same or similar circumstances.
“Ordinary care” means that degree of care that would be used by a person of ordinary prudence under the same or similar circumstances.
Ordinarily careful people don’t drive under the influence because they know DUI is a major cause of wrecks, injury, and death on our Texas and Oklahoma roadways. DUI fits nicely within the Texas definition of negligence. If a jury finds that a drunk driver is negligent, then they can proceed to assess damages for personal injuries. These include things such as past and future medical bills, past and future pain and mental anguish, and loss of income, among others.
In addition to negligence, we also allege that the drunk driver is grossly negligent. Most people understand that gross negligence means the defendant was reckless in their actions and another person was damaged as a result. Under Texas law gross negligence is defined as follows:
“Gross negligence” means an act or omission by the defendant,
which when viewed objectively from the standpoint of the defendant at the time of its occurrence involves an extreme degree of risk, considering the probability and magnitude of the potential harm to others; and
of which the defendant has actual, subjective awareness of the risk involved, but nevertheless proceeds with conscious indifference to the rights, safety, or welfare of others.
DUI fits nicely into Texas’ and Oklahoma’s definition of gross negligence. DUI carries a risk of serious injury and death to others. The dangers of DUI are widely known and accepted to be true and it is easy to conclude that the drunk driver knew of the dangers at the time, but proceeded with indifference to everyone else on the roadway. Driving while intoxicated is gross negligence.
Several advantages follow the gross negligence allegation. The first advantage is that gross negligence opens up an additional element of damage called punitive damages. Punitive means to punish, and when someone is grossly negligent a jury can assess an amount of money in the verdict to punish the reckless behavior of the defendant. Punitive damages are sometimes called exemplary damages and they are only available if a defendant is shown to be grossly negligent.
The gross negligence allegation can place the defense attorney, the defendant, and the insurance company in an awkward position. The insurance company may take the position that their policy doesn’t cover punitive damages. In that case, the defendant’s attorney has to tell the defendant his own insurance company might not cover all the damages. This can throw a wrench into the relationship and motivate a higher settlement valuation.
For drunk driving injury cases, a jury can award two types of damages to the victim of the drunk driver: economic damages and non-economic damages. These damages apply to cases involving both negligence and gross negligence and are called compensatory damages. Juries can also award additional punitive damages for gross negligence. Punitive damages are generally based on the amount determined for economic damages and non-economic damages.
Compensatory Damages Include Economic and Non-Economic Damages:
Past and future medical expenses
Bills from doctors and other medical services
Prescription medicines and medical equipment
Physical therapy or rehabilitation
Cost of making home accessible for related disablement
Cost of travel to and from hospital appointments
Lost income, lost future earning potential, lost opportunities
Rental car expenses
Vehicle repair or replacement
Suffering, Pain, and Discomfort
Depression, anxiety, and mental disorders
Loss of enjoyment
Disfigurement and scars
Loss of Consortium (sexual relations) or companionship
Punitive damages are meant to deter bad conduct in the future. These damages are only available in cases where there is gross negligence. The amount set for punitive damages awarded may be subject to limitations set by both statutes and constitutional law. There are some exceptions to the statutes, however, which remove the limits on punitive damages for drunk drivers who cause their victims a serious injury.
The drunk driving accident attorneys at Tate Rehmet Law Offices represent victims of drunk drivers, and our personal injury law firm has over three decades of experience in handling injury cases throughout Texas and Oklahoma. We serve North Texas, South Oklahoma (Texoma), including McKinney, Dallas, Sherman, Durant, Gainesville, Bonham, Pottsboro, Ardmore, Denison, Marietta. If you’ve been injured by a drunk driver or know someone who has, we encourage you to contact us now so we can answer your questions and discuss recovering your losses. You can reach us by phone, chat or email, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week by calling (903) 892-4440 or by using the chat feature linked at the top and bottom of this webpage. Or you can use our contact form to send us an email.