In November of 2017, Galvan Alejandro Jr. and William Rhodes were traveling in Vernon Parish, Louisiana when Alejandro, the driver, lost control of the vehicle, went off the road, struck a culvert, and hit several trees. Despite wearing a seatbelt, Rhodes, the passenger, was ejected from the vehicle and killed. The driver sustained only moderate injuries. Suspecting alcohol and excessive speeding as causes for the crash, in January, Louisiana authorities arrested the driver for vehicular homicide and reckless operation.
Louisiana law defines “vehicular homicide” as “the killing of a human being caused . . . by an offender engaged in the operation of . . . any motor vehicle” when the driver is under the influence of alcoholic beverages or other intoxicants. If convicted of vehicular homicide, the driver can be fined and imprisoned for no less than five years and no more than thirty years. In addition to facing possible jail time, under Louisiana law, a drunk driver can face liability for punitive damages, which can be awarded in addition to compensatory damages in some cases. Louisiana Civil Code article 2315.4 states, “exemplary damages may be awarded upon proof that the injuries on which the action is based were caused by . . . a defendant whose intoxication while operating a motor vehicle was a cause in fact of the resulting injuries.”
Punitive damage awards can vary depending upon the facts of each case and even the location of the trial. For example, Broussard, David & Moroux partner Blake R. David was lead counsel in Thibodeaux v. AFTCO, where a Lafayette Parish jury awarded punitive damages of nearly $15,000,000.00 against an intoxicated driver. In Calcasieu Parish, Broussard, David & Moroux partner Blake R. David was also lead counsel in Tingle v. American Home Assurance Co., where the jury returned a verdict which included $5,000,000.00 in punitive damages where an intoxicated driver caused the death of a family’s two-year-old daughter. In Thistlethwaite v. Gonzalez, another case in which Blake David was lead counsel, a St. Charles Parish trial court awarded over $25,000,000.00 total in punitive damages against an intoxicated defendant driver.