Highway safety is an important issue that concerns us all, and that is why the results of a study recently released by the National Highway Transportation Administration are good news at the beginning of the year. According to the report, there was a 2.5 percent decrease in the amount of alcohol-related car accident fatalities across the United States in 2013. In Massachusetts, there was an even greater decrease of 8.5 percent.

The improvement does not, of course, mean that states can rest from making improvements. Officers in Massachusetts are still committed to utilizing a variety of approaches to address the issue, and state lawmakers are surely keeping an eye on the effort. From the victim compensation angle, personal injury attorneys will also continue to do their part to ensure that victims receive the compensation due to them, including punitive damages, when appropriate. 

Punitive damages, for readers who don’t know, are different from compensatory damages in that they are not intended to compensate a victim for economic or non-economic losses, but to punish the offender in a civil context and provide a measure of deterrence. Under Massachusetts law, punitive damages are not available in just any case, but only in wrongful death cases where the fatality was caused by the defendant’s “malicious, willful, wanton or reckless conduct” or by gross negligence.

Punitive damages may be awarded in cases where a drunk driver causes the death of another motorist, provided the drunk driver is found to have acted with the qualities listed above. State law does provided some exceptions to the rule, though, and establishing a case for punitive damages is not easy. Survivors of car accident victims who feel they may have a right to punitive damages in their wrongful death case should be sure to work with an experienced attorney who can provide the level of advocacy needed to give them the best possible opportunity for recovery.

Source: Danvers Patch, “Alcohol-Related Car Accident Deaths on the Decline in Massachusetts,” Linda Block, Jan. 19, 2015.