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Car accidents: Reckless driving may support punitive damages

In New Hampshire, injured victims of a car accident caused by a drunk driver may in some limited instances be able to collect punitive damages. When drunk drivers drive recklessly and with abandon, or in a callous and wanton manner, the injured plaintiff can make a legitimate request for punitive damages from such car accidents. This may not be always granted, but its allowance into the lawsuit should be asserted by the plaintiff's counsel.

The plaintiff will have to prove that the reckless driving was a substantial factor in causing the injuries to the plaintiff in order to assert punitive damages. Recklessness in a vacuum, such as that which occurred 15 minutes prior to the impact, will likely not suffice to justify a claim for punitive damages. That would be due to the absence of proof of causation.

A recent New Hampshire accident illustrates one or more of these principles. A 33-year-old male operator who was traveling north on Route 3 crossed the solid center line and crashed head-on into an SUV operated by a 55-year-old male of Sanbornton. The older man was taken to a local hospital and then transported to Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston with life-threatening injuries.

The New Hampshire State Police charged the operator who crossed lanes with aggravated drunken driving. The disposition of those criminal charges will not directly impact the success of the civil claim for damages that the victim may bring against the tortfeasor. However, a conviction may support the allegations of recklessness which may in turn strengthen the claim for punitive damages. Typical damages in such car accidents include lost wages, medical expenses and lost earning capacity, along with pain, suffering and loss of the enjoyment of life's pleasures.                   

Source:, "Two critically injured in Tilton head-on crash", May 8, 2017

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