Punitive damages are awarded by juries as a punishment, over and above compensatory or actual damages. Not every plaintiff in Cook County accident liability cases receives punitive damages. The ruling often comes after a plaintiff shows a defendant's actions were extraordinarily harmful.
A woman died and nine people required medical treatment after an accident on Illinois Route 16 last March. Police said a 26-year-old Chicago man was drunk and speeding, when his vehicle crashed into the rear of a car stopped at a red light and fatally injured a passenger inside.
Authorities said three cars were waiting at the light when the defendant's vehicle, at speeds topping 100 mph, came barreling toward the intersection. The accused man's speedometer was pegged at 92 mph at impact. Four vehicles were in the wreckage.
The defendant's blood alcohol level was 0.15 percent several hours after the fatal crash, nearly twice the limit for driver impairment. The alleged drunk driver was charged with aggravated DUI and causing the 40-year-old passenger's death.
The Chicago man chose to have a judge decide his fate in a stipulated-facts trial, an option sometimes used by defendants when evidence of wrongdoing is irrefutable. A verdict is based upon evidence already approved by prosecutors and the defense.
The driver was convicted and jailed without bond. He will remain behind bars until sentencing in April. Aggravated driving under the influence is punishable by up to 14 years in prison or, under rare circumstances, a sentence as light as probation.
It was not necessary for the defendant to admit guilt during the bench trial. The defense attorney said that his client was concerned an admission of guilt would affect any civil liability claims against him.
The loss of a loved one in a drunk driving accident is especially painful to survivors. A family's emotional trauma may be included among wrongful death damages sought in a civil case.
Source: Journal Gazette & Times-Courier, "Judge convicts man of causing accident" Dave Fopay, Feb. 04, 2014