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In most car accident cases, punitive damages are rarely available:

In automobile collision cases decided under OCGA § 51–12–5.1, punitive damages are not recoverable where the driver at fault simply violated a rule of the road. See, e.g., Bradford v. Xerox Corp., 216 Ga.App. 83, 453 S.E.2d 98 (1994) (defendant’s speeding did not warrant imposition of punitive damages absent evidence of other aggravating circumstances); Coker v. Culter, 208 Ga.App. 651, 431 S.E.2d 443 (1993) (punitive damages not warranted even though defendant was speeding on wet roads, had consumed some alcohol, and behaved abominably after collision); Cullen, supra (careless running of red light not sufficient aggravating circumstance).

Carter v. Spells, 229 Ga. App. 441, 442, 494 S.E.2d 279, 281 (1997).

On the other hand, punitive damages are recoverable under the statute where the collision resulted from a pattern or policy of dangerous driving. See, e.g., Boyett v. Webster, 224 Ga.App. 843, 482 S.E.2d 377 (1996) (cert. granted) (DUI in incident and on previous occasions); Cheevers v. Clark, 214 Ga.App. 866, 869(4), 449 S.E.2d 528 (1994) (drunk driving in incident at issue as well as subsequent arrests for drunk driving); Holt v. Grinnell, 212 Ga.App. 520, 441 S.E.2d 874 (1994) (drunken driving); Smith v. Tommy Roberts Trucking Co., 209 Ga.App. 826, 828(2), 435 S.E.2d 54 (1993) (a “policy” of excessive speed plus defendant struck plaintiff’s vehicle twice and kept pushing); J.B. Hunt Transport v. Bentley, 207 Ga.App. 250, 255(2), 427 S.E.2d 499 (1992) (truck driver drove 20 miles despite serious mechanical problem which caused collision); Viau v. Fred Dean, Inc., 203 Ga.App. 801, 804(4), 418 S.E.2d 604 (1992) (drunken driving); Day v. Burnett, 199 Ga.App. 494, 496(2), 405 S.E.2d 316 (1991) (driving under the influence and in violation of a number of traffic safety laws). Cases which involve the less stringent standards of proof applicable before the effectiveness of OCGA § 51–12–5.1 also relate to aggravated circumstances of driving. See Harrison v. S & B Trucking, 179 Ga.App. 291, 292(1), 346 S.E.2d 101 (1986) (excessive speeds of tractor-trailer “in conjunction with the other facts”); and Moore v. Thompson, 255 Ga. 236, 237, 336 S.E.2d 749 (1985) (DUI in incident and on previous and subsequent occasions).

Carter v. Spells, 229 Ga. App. 441, 442, 494 S.E.2d 279, 281 (1997).

Leaving the scene of an accident was criminalized under OCGA §§ 40-6-270(a) and (c) and 40-6-271, as hit and run, because the public policy of this state mandates that a party to an accident must stop and render aid to those involved in the collision, no matter who caused the collision, and not leave them in a possibly disabled state without aid. Ga. Power Co. v. Shipp, 195 Ga. 446, 24 S.E.2d 764 (1943); Bellamy v. Edwards, 181 Ga.App. 887, 889(3), 354 S.E.2d 434 (1987); Battle v. Kilcrease, 54 Ga.App. 808, 809-810(4), 189 S.E. 573 (1936). Thus, such act of leaving the scene of a collision without even speaking to the other party, as mandated by statute, was an intentional and culpable act; such conduct demonstrated a conscious indifference to the consequences and an entire want of care as to the victim’s well-being, permitting the jury to find that such conduct was of an aggravated and indifferent nature for purposes of imposing punitive damages. Bellamy v. Edwards, supra at 889, 354 S.E.2d 434; Battle v. Kilcrease, supra at 809-810(4), 189 S.E. 573. Thus, such conduct alone was sufficient to show aggravated circumstances so as to permit the jury to consider the imposition of punitive damages for such culpable conduct. Further, driving under the influence of alcohol constituted such wanton *211 conduct that it was both intentionally wilful and evinced such entire want of care as to be wanton, because it placed others at great risk of injury or death. See Moore v. Thompson, 255 Ga. 236, 237, 336 S.E.2d 749 (1985); Holt v. Grinnell, 212 Ga.App. 520, 441 S.E.2d 874 (1994).

Langlois v. Wolford, 246 Ga. App. 209, 210-11, 539 S.E.2d 565, 568 (2000)

The defendant left the scene of the collision without even speaking to the plaintiff, which gave rise to the reasonable inference that flight was from a sense of guilt. Parker v. State, 232 Ga.App. 609, 611(1), 502 S.E.2d 310 (1998); Agony v. State, 226 Ga.App. 330, 331, 486 S.E.2d 625 (1997). Further, flight also gave rise to the inference that the defendant sought to conceal the odor of alcohol on his person and intoxication, which even the brief encounter required by law would reveal.

Langlois v. Wolford, 246 Ga. App. 209, 210-11, 539 S.E.2d 565, 568 (2000)



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Ben Sessions, Attorney at Sessions Law Group
Ben Sessions

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