Yes, if you're injured by a drunk driver, you can recover punitive damages in both Missouri and Kansas, in addition to collecting for your actual injuries and damages incurred.

The purpose of punitive damages is to punish the drunk driver for his grossly negligent behaviors and not to compensate you. While the reason behind these damages is the same in both states, the laws that govern your right to receive this type of compensation are different.

Your Right to Punitive Damages in Missouri

In Missouri, you must prove the negligent motorist acted with a conscious disregard or complete indifference to your wellbeing and safety. Your burden of proof is greater when requesting punitive damages than for your negligence claim. The judge decides whether you meet this requirement and if so, the jury considers awarding punitive damages.

There used to be a cap on the amount of punitive damages awarded, but the Missouri Supreme Court ruled the provision was unconstitutional. Without this cap, a jury can consider the negligent party’s net worth in reaching its verdict. However, half of what is awarded is paid to the State of Missouri.

Punitive Damages in Drunk Driving Cases in Kansas

To be entitled to punitive damages in Kansas, you need to show the other driver’s conduct was wanton, malicious, willful, or fraudulent. Like Missouri, your standard of proof is greater. You need to file a motion to amend your original complaint to ask for punitive damages. The judge decides if there is sufficient evidence for the jury to award them.

While the jury decides your right to punitive damages, the judge determines the amount you should receive at a separate hearing. He or she considers these factors for his decision:

  • Likelihood at the time of the crash that you would be seriously harmed.
  • How aware the drunk driver was of the danger to you.
  • Profitability of his actions.
  • How long the inebriated motorist engaged in his wrongful actions and whether he concealed them.
  • His attitude when your accident occurred.
  • His financial condition.
  • Deterrent effect of damages and other punishments on the drunk driver.

There's a cap on the amount of punitive damages that can be awarded, which is complicated to calculate.

Punitive damages in a drunk driving case Kansas City Accident Injury AttorneysThis amount can be no more than the lessor of:

  • Drunk driver’s annual gross income, based on the highest gross income earned for any of the last five years prior to the accident
  • Five million dollars

Punitive damages aren't commonly awarded in car accident cases. However, a drunk driving victim is more likely to receive them due to the catastrophic nature of these accidents and the grossly negligent actions of the intoxicated motorist.

Have You Been Injured By A Drunk Driver?

If you've been injured by a drunk driver you need to speak with an experienced drunk driving victim attorney as soon as possible. Please contact us online or call our Kansas City office directly at 816.471.5111 to schedule your free consultation.


James Roswold
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James Roswold is a Kansas & Missouri personal injury, workers comp, and medical malpractice attorney.