If you have spotted a driver driving erratically on the highway—for example, drifting wildly across lanes or driving on the rumble strip—you might assume they are drunk. The truth is they may simply be tired and that is just as dangerous!

Tired drivers, just like drunk drivers, are more likely to:

  • Be easily distracted
  • Have poor decision-making skills
  • Have slower reaction times
  • Fail to see other drivers, road signs, or traffic signals

According to the National Sleep Association, getting less than six hours of sleep is the equivalent of having a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.05%. In other words, missing just one to two hours of sleep a night can double your risk of getting into a crash, and missing two to three hours of sleep quadruples your risk! That’s frightening when you consider that, according to the CDC, more than a third of U.S. drivers are not getting the recommended seven hours a night, and count as sleep deprived.

Pulling an “all-nighter” and going a full day without sleep is the same as a BAC of 0.10%, far over the legal limit if you had been drinking!

A study from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found:

  • As many as 1 in 5 crashes involve drowsy drivers.
  • More than a quarter of drivers admit to driving while so tired they can barely keep their eyes open.
  • 1 in 25 adult drivers surveyed reported falling asleep while driving at least once in the past month, 1 in 10 reported falling asleep while driving in the past year, and 2 in 5 reported having fallen asleep while driving at least once in their life.

All this, despite 97% of drivers reporting the belief that driving while tired is an “unacceptable” behavior.

If you’ve been injured in a crash by a driver who should never have gotten behind the wheel, you deserve compensation for your damages. You also deserve justice, and sometimes that can be found in punitive damages.

What Are Punitive Damages?

Most of the time, compensation in personal injury claims like car accidents are divided into economic damages and non-economic damages. Economic damages are your financial losses, such as your car repair bills, your medical bills, and your lost wages. Non-economic damages are your non-financial losses, such as your physical pain and mental and emotional suffering. Both economic and non-economic damages are compensatory damages because they are supposed to compensate you, or reimburse you, for what you lost.

However, there is another form of damages you may be able to get after a serious injury caused by someone else’s negligence. These are called punitive damages, and their purpose is to punish the person at fault. Juries may also order people to pay large amounts of punitive damages to make an example out of them and hopefully deter other people from doing what they did.

When Can I Get Punitive Damages?

Punitive damages aren’t always available, and it is not an “always in this type of accident” or “never in this type of accident” situation. You can usually only get punitive damages in cases involving excessive negligence, when there is an intentional disregard for other people’s safety. This means it is usually a case-by-case basis.

For example, although driving while tired is definitely negligent, that alone is probably not enough to qualify for punitive damages. However, it might make a difference if it was discovered the at-fault driver got behind the wheel after going more than a day without sleep, as opposed to driving on only a few hours of sleep. They may have also been put back on the road by an employer who insisted on one more trip—it happens!

Likewise, some people may have a medical condition that makes them more likely to fall asleep while driving, like narcolepsy. This alone is not enough to qualify for punitive damages, but if the at-fault driver was actively refusing treatment for their condition knowing that it meant they might fall asleep at the wheel, it might be possible to seek punitive damages.

The same goes for someone who deliberately decided to drive after taking medication where drowsiness is a known side effect (if you’ve ever seen a warning label on medication stating “do not operate heavy machinery” after taking, that includes cars).

If you are unsure if you can or should demand punitive damages, contact our firm for a free case review.

How Much Can I Get in Punitive Damages?

Georgia has a cap of $250,000 on punitive damages in most personal injury cases. However, there is an exception if the at-fault driver was under the influence of illegal drugs or alcohol. In these cases, there is no cap.

In Alabama, when juries decide to award punitive damages, they can award up to three times the compensatory damages, although there is a hard cap of $1.5 million.

If You’ve Been Injured in a Drowsy Driving Crash, Get Gary Bruce

When drivers negligently harm others by doing things they KNOW are dangerous, they should be held liable to the fullest extent of the law. Contact our Georgia and Alabama auto accident lawyers today to learn how we can help you get the compensation you deserve following a drowsy driving wreck that wasn’t your fault.