A previous entry discussed a specific case wherein my client was the victim of a rear end car accident in Belleville Illinois when a drunk driver failed to stop at a stop light and crashed into her at about 60 mph. See Injury Lawyer - Illinois Drunk Driving Car Accident.
The driver that hit my client plead guilty to drunk driving (DUI) in St Clair County Illinois. His plea of guilty, despite being granted probation, is evidence that he was legally intoxicated at the time of the accident thus justifying the imposition of punitive damages. See Illinois Complaint for Car Accident resulting from Drunk Driver and Imposition of Punitive Damages.
In Illinois, as in Missouri and most other states, the imposition of punitive damages is justified if the defendant's conduct is egregious enough to rise above mere negligence and rise to a level of intentional misconduct. Often described as "wilful and wanton" conduct or conduct that shows a "conscious disregard for the safety of others".
In a drunk driving case the defendant did not intentionally hit the other driver, however, the conscious disregard for the safety of others by engaging in the reckless conduct of drunk driving allows the imposition of punitive damages. Despite the lack of an intent to hurt anyone (as in an assault case where intent to harm is clear) the engagement into such reckless conduct implies that intent. Missouri and Illinois courts have both upheld punitive damage awards in drunk driving car and truck accidents.