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October 16, 2002 - $500,000 Judgment upheld against drunk driver

The Louisiana Supreme Court has upheld a jury's order that a drunk driver pay $500,000 in punitive damages, saying the amount was justified given the man's record. Kirk P. Domas pleaded guilty to a third-offense driving-while-intoxicated charge after he ran a stop sign and broadsided a car driven by Donald Mosing, president of Frank's Casing Crew & Rental Tools Inc.Domas, who fled the scene on foot and was captured a short time later, was speeding through the neighborhood in an attempt to flee another accident he had caused minutes earlier, the high court said.

A Lafayette Parish jury awarded $30,000 in general damages and medical expenses to Mosing, $10,000 to Mosing's wife for loss of consortium, and $500,000 to the Mosings in punitive damages.In affirming the jury's decision Tuesday by a 5-2 margin, the Supreme Court cautioned that its ruling "should not be construed as a broad grant of authority to impose large exemplary damage awards against individuals who drink and drive." But, "in this particular case, given this defendant's recidivism and grossly reckless and wanton behavior bordering on being intentional, we cannot say that the $500,000 exemplary damage award is so clearly against the evidence before the jury as to constitute an abuse of discretion," Justice John Weimer wrote for the court.

Justices Jeffrey Victory and Chet Traylor dissented."Because of the nearly 14-1 ratio between the punitive and compensatory damages awarded to the Mosings, I believe the award is excessive," Victory wrote.Weimer said Domas' conduct behind the wheel "poses a clear threat to society at large." Domas' DWI conviction in the Mosing case was preceded by a 1986 DWI conviction in Lafayette and a 1982 DWI conviction in Shreveport, he said. "Not only is he chronically prone to endanger the public by driving while intoxicated, he appears to be more concerned with escaping the consequences of his outrageous conduct than with attending to the victims he leaves in his wake," Weimer wrote.

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