What's the most you've ever spent during a night out on the town? Forty dollars? Sixty? Perhaps there have been a few wild nights where you hit three digits?
How about $27,500,000? That was the amount awarded to a North Carolina couple following injuries received in a recent drunk driving accident.
$20,000,000 of the verdict awarded was for punitive damages and is emblematic of a shift in North Carolina among juries who are more willing to punish DWI offenders.
The night must have been going pretty well for Reuben Van James - he later tested positive for blood alcohol content of about 0.17 - but that changed when he swerved across the median and hit the plaintiffs' van head-on. At that point, things turned for the very worst.
Both husband and wife suffered from shoulder injuries and sustained leg fractures that required the insertion of steel rods. Meanwhile the husband also required surgical reattachment of his toes and had to have his spleen removed. For both, the injuries were painful and life-altering.
It was a tragic accident regardless of the circumstances - but even more tragic when you consider that Reuben Van James already had two DWI convictions, plus another DWI charge that had been dismissed.
When something like this happens, people ask themselves - how many times does it take? How many times until you've learned your lesson? That's what the North Carolina jury serving on the case asked themselves before awarding the injured couple $20 million in punitive damages. It's most likely safe to assume that Van James learned his lesson.
Under North Carolina law, victims of accidents are usually only able to sue for injuries and losses - consisting of medical bills, lost wages, future income loss and pain and suffering.
However, the North Carolina Exemplary Damages Act allows accident victims to file additional claims when they are injured as a result of "willful or wanton misconduct." More and more, North Carolina juries are slotting repeat DWI offenders under this category, opening cases up to the potential of high punitive damage awards.
There's a very good reason behind this increased willingness to penalize DWI offenders - North Carolina currently ranks fifth in the country for traffic fatalities involving alcohol. 30 percent of all fatal accidents in the state involve drivers with a blood alcohol content of 0.08 or greater.
While punitive awards are meant to punish the offender him or herself, cases like Reuben Van James' also set a precedent for how similar cases will handled. In North Carolina, that precedent is telling DWI offenders to learn their lesson or suffer the consequences.
If you are the victim of an accident involving a repeat DWI offender, contact a lawyer experienced in personal injury and vehicle accidents claims to discuss your legal rights and options.