Punitive Damages May Be an Option in Arkansas DUI Crash - Elliott & Smith Law Firm

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Sep 17

Punitive Damages May Be an Option in Arkansas DUI Crash

Almost two full years after causing a fatal DUI accident in Bentonville, AR, a man who pled guilty of negligent homicide began serving his sentence for the crime.

The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette covered the story in a September 6, 2019 article, stating that the three-vehicle collision occurred when the defendant failed to stop at a traffic signal. Most of those involved in the crash were treated for minor injuries, except for one victim who died from his injuries after being transported to Northwest Medical Center-Bentonville.

Police suspected the involvement of alcohol when they arrived on the scene of the crash to investigate.

One officer reported that he could smell alcohol on the defendant’s breath, and a paramedic treating him also noted a high level of intoxication. Based upon these suspicions, police obtained and analyzed a blood sample, which revealed the defendant had a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.20 percent; the legal limit in Arkansas is 0.08.

After being arrested for vehicular manslaughter by drunk driving, the man accepted a plea bargain for negligent homicide.

He was sentenced to 13 years in prison, which he will serve in Benton County. This last phase of the case brings some closure to the victim’s family, but they no doubt suffer lingering effects from the loss of their loved one.

Fortunately, the victim’s family may have legal options to recover compensation through a wrongful death action. Arkansas law allows survivors to seek monetary damages for loss of consortium, guidance, education, financial support, and other services. They can also obtain amounts for the decedent’s funeral costs and medical expenses.

However, the family may also be entitled to pursue a claim for punitive damages. J. Timothy Smith, a founding partner at Elliott & Smith Law Firm in Fayetteville, AR, explained in more detail.

“While damages in most negligence-based cases are intended to compensate a victim for their losses, punitive damages are meant to punish the wrongdoer for outrageous misconduct.”

Under the Arkansas statute on punitive damages, a plaintiff can obtain amounts above and beyond compensation by proving the presence of aggravating factors.

The key is presenting proof that the defendant knew or should have known that his or her actions would probably result in injuries, and that person recklessly disregarded the risks. Mr. Smith noted, “Punitives may be available in drunk driving accidents, because the defendant’s actions often rise to the level of reckless disregard under the circumstances.”

If successful in proving entitlement to punitive damages, a claimant may be able to recover the greater of $250,000 or three times the compensatory damages up to $1 million.

Contact Elliott & Smith today to discuss your case.