Drunk Driving Injuries are being scrutinized everywhere. Recently, the Wisconsin Journal Sentinel had run a five-part series on the drinking culture in Wisconsin and the tragic impact that driving under the influence of alcohol has on its citizens.
Wisconsin is known, among other things, for its cheese, football, and beer. Not to be glib, but our culture is one that embraces alcohol consumption, and consequently, many tragic consequences flow from it.
In my practice, I have successfully represented many innocent people who were injured by drunk drivers.
What struck me while reading the Wisconsin Journal Sentinel series was the sheer variety of individuals who made the impaired decision to operate a vehicle after having a few drinks.
In an October 23, 2008 posting Rick Romell and Grant Smith cited the following:
“From 2003 through 2007, drunken-driving accidents along the road claimed 37 lives.
Most occurred with little notice – except from grieving relatives and friends. But in a state where more than 300 people a year die in drunk driving accidents, their stories outline the dimensions of a problem that spreads across Wisconsin.
Most of those killed were the drunken drivers themselves.
But there was also Marion Horton, a grandmother who worked as a nurse and collected Santa Clauses, hit by a man who crossed the median in Winnebago County, striking her car head-on.
There was an honor-roll high school student and his two cousins, all of them respected young men in Wisconsin’s Hmong community, all victims of a driver whose blood-alcohol level was three times the allowed limit when he sped through a red light on the city’s northwest side.
And there was an aspiring law student who counseled young people about underage drinking, killed in a crash involving a man who had taken advantage of an Appleton tavern’s $5 all-you-can-drink offer.”
All too often, the victims “go unnoticed.” What is the solution to Wisconsin’s drunken driving epidemic? Stiffer criminal penalties? Lawsuits in civil court seeking compensatory and punitive damages?
Recently, the Wisconsin Supreme Court upheld a large punitive damage award against a five-time convicted drunk driver.
Courts and juries are becoming more and more responsive to arguments that drunk drivers who injure other people deserve to be found liable for punitive damages; damages intended to punish the defendant and deter others in society from engaging in similar drunken conduct.
Outside of a huge cultural shift that has zero tolerance for driving while under the influence of an intoxicant, Wisconsin citizens must exercise their rights in civil courts and personally hold those that harm them while impaired responsible for their actions.