Pennsylvania Courts adopted Restatement (Second) of Torts § 908 for the law of punitive damages. The Restatement allows for an award of punitive damages for conduct that is “outrageous because of the defendant’s evil motive or his reckless indifference to the rights of others” Pennsylvania Courts have held that, in certain circumstances, the act of driving while intoxicated may constitute outrageous conduct even in the absence of a showing evil motive or malice.
In Focht v. Rabada, 268 A.2d 157, 161 (Pa. Super. 1970), the court stated that “under the appropriate circumstances, evidence of driving while under the influence of intoxicating liquors may constitute a sufficient ground for allowing punitive damages.” The court went on to state that driving while intoxicated, with its very great potential for harm and serious injury, may be deemed “outrageous conduct” and “a reckless indifference to the interest of others,” sufficient to allow imposition of punitive damages pursuant to Restatement (Second) of Torts § 908. Id. at 160. “[I]n certain factual circumstances, the risks presented by a drunken driver may be so obvious and the probability that harm will follow so great that outrageous misconduct may be established without reference to motive or intent.” Id. at 161 (emphasis added).
In Brueckner v. Stewart, 2006 WL 4821434 (Pa.Com.Pl. 2006), the court followed the reasoning in Focht and reached a similar result. In this case, the court determined that allegations that the defendant drove under the influence of alcohol, crashed into the rear of plaintiffs’ car while moving at a high speed, and fled the scene were sufficient to show reckless indifference. Id. In so holding, the court stated that “to require plaintiffs to provide further detail would require them to plead evidence.” Id. The court went on to state that the pleading rules only require pleading of facts sufficient to enable the defendant to prepare a defense. Id.
Generally, it is important to remember to include a request for punitive damages in a case involving a defendant who was driving drunk. Just because the Defendant was driving drunk is not going to automatically entitle a plaintiff to a punitive damages award. In order to obtain a punitive damages award, an attorney will need develop more evidence to establish outrageous conduct. For example, prior DUI convictions, prior alcohol related offenses, a high blood alcohol level, open containers in the vehicle or reckless speeding could be indications of outrageous conduct.