Punitive Damages: A Necessary Deterrent
Our firm handled a wrongful death, truck accident involving a driver that was operating his tractor-trailer under the influence of drugs at the time of the tragic incident. A wrongful death of an innocent person occurred in large part because the truck driver was under the influence of methamphetamine which is a known dangerous drug, particularly in the context of a commercially licensed truck driver. While no amount of money can compensate the family for this tragic and senseless death, nonetheless, when aggravating circumstances such as driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol are present in a particular serious injury or wrongful death case, punitive damages are necessary in order to deter other wrongdoers from future similar acts of misconduct. They are also necessary to punish the offender.
In this particular case, not only was the truck driver operating his truck while under the influence of dangerous intoxicating drugs (he also had benzoids in his bloodstream), he had taken other steps to avoid detection by law enforcement and regulatory officials. Indeed, in this particular case, the truck driver had secreted with his waistband two urine vials which he could use to deceive regulatory officials if he was stopped and asked for a urine sample. In short, he knew exactly what he was doing and took steps to conceal his drug use by having available urine vials hidden within his waistband so that he could give a urine sample without being apprehended for illegal drug usage by law enforcement. Unfortunately for the driver, in this particular case, the police officers conducted a thorough search, found the urine vials and charged the driver with vehicular homicide.
Punitive damages have long been necessary to punish wrongdoers and to deter similar acts of wrongdoing in the future. While it is well known that many truck drivers are operating their rigs while under the influence of intoxicating drugs, particularly uppers, speed and other similar intoxicants, the hope, of course, is that if juries impose significant punitive damages in cases like this, this may deter others from engaging in similar conduct. The senseless tragedy brought about by the wrongful act cannot be compensated in any event but, when juries are willing to impose additional penalties on top of other available damages, we believe that juries can send strong messages that they will punish those who engage in this type of egregious misconduct. If the financial punishment is severe enough, hopefully, deterrence of others will be the end result.