In Moore v. Thompson, 255 Ga. 236 (1985), the Supreme Court held prior or subsequent DUI’s are admissible on the issue of punitive damages. The court in Moore held that this evidence would require a bifurcated trial in order to avoid prejudice, so the prior DUI would not be admissible during the liability phase of trial under Moore. OCGA 51-12-5.1(d) was enacted in 1997, after Moore This punitive damages statute specifically calls for a bifurcated procedure on the issue of punitive damages, with the jury first hearing evidence in the initial liabilty phase to decide not only liability, but also evidence to determine if punitive damages are warranted (which would necessarily include evidence of prior or subsequent DUI’s), and then the amount of punitive damages is to be decided in the second phase of the bifurcated trial. Accordingly, under this statute, which was adopted after Moore and thus supercedes it, one could argue that the prior DUI evidence is admissible in the first phase of the bifurcated trial, in which the jury decides the issues of liability and whether punitive damages may be assessed. Thus, even though Moore holds that the prior DUI evidence should not come in evidence until after liabilty is decided, the statute says otherwise. However, a trial court may still have the inherent authority to bifurcate (or trifurcate) to avoid prejudice, but this is not what the statute says is required, and I would argue that under the express terms of the statute this prior DUI is admissible in the liability phase of trial. See also Langlois v. Wolford, 246 Ga. App. 209 (2000)( driving under the influence, coupled with prior history of driving under the influence and DUI, was aggravated conduct supporting punitive damages). (Thanks to my old friend and classmate, Clark McGehee, for pointing this out.)
The Shigley Law Firm represents plaintiffs in wrongful death and catastrophic injury cases statewide in Georgia, and in other states subject to the multijurisdictional practice and pro hac vice rules in each state. Ken Shigley was designated as a “SuperLawyer” in Atlanta Magazine and one of the “Legal Elite” in Georgia Trend Magazine. He is a Certified Civil Trial Advocate of the National Board of Trial Advocacy, Chair of the Southeastern Motor Carrier Liability Institute and former chair of the Georgia Insurance Law Institute. He particularly focuses on cases arising from truck wrecks and accidents (tractor trailers truck wrecks, semi truck wrecks,18 wheeler truck wrecks, big rig truck wrecks, log truck wrecks, dump truck wrecks).