WILKES-BARRE - A Luzerne County jury on Thursday awarded a Hazleton man more than $500,000 in a case in which his attorneys say he was injured after a car accident in May 2010.
 After a jury trial this week, Christopher Zschunke, of Hazleton, was awarded $529,521 in a case filed after a collision with a vehicle driven by Stephen Sitler, 27, of Berwick.
 Zschunke's attorney, Angel Mae Webby, of the Zola Law Office in Hazleton, filed the complaint in October 2010, alleging Sitler was high on heroin when a vehicle he was driving, owned by his father, William Sitler, rear-ended Zschunke's vehicle.
 (Zschunke) was thrilled that the driver was held responsible for his reckless actions, Webby said Friday. It could have been anyone on the road in (Zschunke's position). We're happy with the verdict.
 Zschunke was awarded $404,521 in damages as well as $125,000 in punitive damages.
 It's extremely difficult to (be awarded) punitive damages, Webby explained. Typically, a judge dismisses that before the case even goes to the jury.
 Webby said the awarding of punitive damages - defined as damages exceeding simple compensation and awarded to punish the defendant sends a message.
 The jury said they are not going to tolerate people driving under the influence in Luzerne County and that they are seeing too much of it, Webby said.
 According to the suit, Zschunke was driving a 2008 Dodge Ram on State Route 424 in Hazle Township when his vehicle was rear-ended by Sitler, who was driving his father's 1989 Buick.
 The suit says Zschunke received a number of injuries, including a closed head injury and damage to his spine, and alleged negligence on behalf of Stephen Sitler for his driving and William Sitler for allowing his son to use the vehicle.
 Webby said Stephen Sitler has a significant criminal history relating to drug- and driving-related charges, and that he was in a separate accident just six months before the May 2010 accident in which he was also allegedly under the influence of heroin.
 According to court records, Stephen Sitler was charged with traffic and criminal offenses from the accident, and he ended up pleading guilty to two counts of driving under the influence and one count each of possession of drug paraphernalia and driving with a suspended license in March 2011.
 Sitler was sentenced one month later to 72 hours to 12 months in county prison, a sentence that came with a number of conditions including a 12-month license suspension and a 12-month order to participate in the Ignition Interlock program.
 Court papers indicate he allegedly violated the terms of his sentence after Berwick police charged him with possessing heroin on March 22
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