New Hampshire Judge Clears Way for Enhanced Damages in Drunk Driving Cases

March 3, 2004

A judge or jury in New Hampshire can decide whether to award enhanced damages to a man injured by a drunken driver, a state Superior Court judge has ruled.

Most states allow enhanced damages in civil lawsuits against drunken drivers, and “New Hampshire is out of step with most courts in this regard,” Judge Edward Fitzgerald ruled.

“The general consensus is that driving while intoxicated is an evil that should be restrained by the use of enhanced or punitive damages,” he wrote.

In past decisions, the state Supreme Court has said that enhanced penalties can’t be awarded just because a driver was drunk.

But Fitzgerald said the high court left the door open for enhanced damages if the plaintiff can show an intoxicated driver acted maliciously, wantonly or with reckless disregard for the lives of others.

Fitzgerald said he would allow Lincoln Hanscom and his wife, Carol, to make that argument in their Merrimack County Superior Court lawsuit against Linda O’Connell, who rear-ended Lincoln Hanscom’s car in March 2003.

O’Connell had asked Fitzgerald to dismiss the portion of their lawsuit seeking enhanced damages.

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