Maryland Drunk Driving Car Accident Lawyer
Maryland is below the national average for drunk driving fatalities. While great, there were still 167 fatalities in Maryland due to drunk driving in 2019. While this is better than average, it is nowhere near good enough. Everyone knows drunk driving is selfish. It affects not only the people who know and love the driver, but everyone else on the road.
Even without drunk drivers, driving is dangerous enough. There are substantial distractions, people calling, other drivers who are in a rush. As drivers, we must behave prudently and defensively to protect ourselves. But unfortunately, this is not always enough. Our attorneys continue to fight every day in Maryland to ensure that drunk drivers are held responsible for their actions. Gelb & Gelb’s Maryland drunk driving car accident lawyers have been handling cases for clients for nearly 70 years.
How to Handle a Drunk Driving Accident in Maryland
If you are hit by a drunk driver in Maryland, first seek medical treatment if necessary. If your injuries are severe, the legal aid may wait a few days; your health is paramount. However, it is important to seek legal counsel from a Maryland drunk driving car accident lawyer as soon as possible. Ideally, you should seek help within the first couple days of the accident. There are certain issues an attorney can assist you with. These are fact dependent and cannot be adequately understood without knowing your unique facts.
What is the Drunk Driving Law in Maryland?
We are a personal injury law firm, so we will touch on the civil liability for drunk driving in Maryland here. In 2016, Maryland enacted the Drunk Driving Reduction Act (“Noah’s Law”). Noah Leotta was a police officer who died due to the recklessness of a drunk driver. Noah’s Law requires that a device be installed in the car of all convicted drunk drivers. This device requires the driver to blow into an ignition device to prove he is not legally intoxicated for the car to ignite. This device is to remain in the convict’s car for six months. Unfortunately, Maryland has the sixth highest number of interlock devices installed in the nation. As of 2023, there are 7,000 drivers in the program.
How Much Can I Recover?
The general rule is that punitive damages are awarded to punish and deter for willful, wanton, or reckless behavior. In most states, this includes drunk driving. But in Maryland, the 1993 case of Komornik v. Sparks held that an award of punitive damages generally must be based upon actual malice. Actual malice is conduct with an evil or wrongful motive, intent to injure, knowing and deliberate wrongdoing, and ill will or fraud. Regarding drunk driving in Maryland, actual malice may be shown if we can prove that the drunk driving was conducted knowingly and deliberately. This needs to be proven by clear and convincing evidence.
If we are able to show there was actual malice by clear and convincing evidence, you may be entitled to punitive damages. Punitive damages are awarded as a multiple of, generally, up to 10 times the amount of your compensatory damages. While this sounds complex, it is all to say that you may be able to recover to a substantially larger amount for your injuries if your accident involves a drunk driver. If you seek more information or clarity on your case, reach out to one of our Maryland drunk driving car accident lawyers today.
Can I Recover as a Passenger?
The personal injury law when you are a passenger is essentially the same as how it is for the driver. Like for the driver, if the car you are in at the time of accident is hit and you are injured due to someone else’s negligence, then you may have a claim. However, this can certainly become more complicated. For example, if you are in the car with a drunk driver and the driver crashes, then you may have a claim against your driver for your injuries. Although, this will depend primarily on whether you are found contributorily negligent for getting in the car with the drunk driver. Generally, this question ultimately hinges on whether you knew or should have known that the driver was drunk. But as always, every accident is unique.
Maryland Law on Punitive Damages
The prevailing rule in Maryland law is, “with respect to both intentional and non-intentional torts, … an award of punitive damages must be based upon actual malice, in the sense of conscious and deliberate wrongdoing, evil or wrongful motive, intent to injure, ill will, or fraud.” Montgomery Ward v. Wilson, 339 Md. 701, 733, 664 A.2d 916, 932 (1995). A subsequent Maryland case rules that Maryland limits the availability of punitive damages to situations in which the defendant knowingly and deliberately. Komornik v. Sparks, 331 Md. 720, 724–730, 629 A.2d 721, 723–726 (1993).
Punitive damages are not recoverable based upon any theory of “implied malice,” either in the sense of gross negligence or in the sense of inferring malice from an element of the tort. Montgomery Ward v. Wilson, supra, 339 Md. at 728–729 n. 5, 734–736, 664 A.2d at 929–930 n. 5, 932–933. However, this is separate from actual malice. This refers to the defendant having actual knowledge or that he reasonably should know a truth. This is not applicable in all tort actions. Here, this rule is referring specifically to drunk driving.
According to the rules above, to obtain an award of punitive damages for a defendant’s drunk driving, we would have to be able to prove knowledge on the part of the defendant. While rare, it is possible. As an example, we would have to show that a defendant, who is drinking, gets in his or her car with the characterization of knowing and deliberate wrongdoing. This is difficult to prove for a drunk person without circumstantial evidence.
As another example, if a defendant drunk driver gets into the car with the intent to injure you, the plaintiff, and does so, you may be able to obtain additional compensation by way of punitive damages. Of course, the drunk driving aspect of this is unnecessary. However, it may bolster the amount of punitive damages you may receive. The general rule per Supreme Court caselaw is that a plaintiff may receive no more than nine times the amount of compensatory damages in punitive damages. You may read on the news that plaintiffs are getting absurd awards for minor injuries. However, it is unconstitutional to award beyond a certain amount relative to the actual and special damages.
Our firm does not handle criminal work. We have been handling civil personal injury cases for nearly 70 years. However, if you do have a criminal need relating to a drunk driving accident, we may be able to refer you to a firm practicing in Maryland.
Contact a Maryland Drunk Driving Accident Lawyer
If you are in a drunk driving accident in Maryland in which you are not at-fault, you may be able to make a claim. For any help with your accident or if you would like to discuss your options, contact a Maryland drunk driving accident lawyer today to see what compensation you may have a claim to.