Can Injured People Recover Compensation for Drunk Driving Accidents?
Drunk driving accidents are unfortunately all too common across the United States today. In fact, recent statistics show that one person dies in a drunk driving accident approximately every 52 minutes in the United States. Moreover, this already high number does not count the many individuals who are injured in drunk driving accidents every day.
When motor vehicle drivers operate their vehicles while they are intoxicated or under the influence of alcohol or drugs, they significantly increase their chances of bringing about a collision with another vehicle on the road. Similarly, drunk drivers are the cause of many pedestrian accidents, and these accidents can lead to very serious injuries, as well as fatalities.
Individuals convicted of drunk driving offenses often face steep criminal penalties along with administrative penalties. Depending upon the jurisdiction where the collision occurs, a convicted drunk driver might have to pay significant fines, serve jail time, or complete community service or other court-mandated requirements. Convicted drunk drivers may also lose their driving privileges for a while and may have to install an ignition interlock device.
In addition to these potential criminal consequences, when a drunk driver causes an accident that results in injury to another person, then the drunk driver (and indirectly the drunk driver’s motor vehicle insurance company) might be responsible for paying monetary compensation in the form of damages.
Accident victims can often pursue and recover this compensation by filing a claim with the at-fault driver’s insurance company and pursuing a settlement. If the insurance company refuses to offer you full and fair compensation for the injuries you suffered in your drunk driving accident, you will have the opportunity to litigate your case in the court system.
An experienced drunk driving accident lawyer can answer all of your questions and address all of your concerns about your drunk driving accident. Your lawyer can investigate the circumstances of your accident and pursue a favorable settlement on your behalf. If the case does not settle, your attorney could file a lawsuit in the court system and litigate your case to a conclusion.
Legal Standard for Drunk Driving and Alcohol Intoxication
The legal standard for drunk driving and alcohol intoxication is jurisdiction-specific and varies from state to state. In most jurisdictions throughout the country, a driver is per se intoxicated if they operate a motor vehicle with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08 percent or higher.
This means that the legal system deems that a person is intoxicated at that level, regardless of whether they are actually impaired. In most jurisdictions, a driver can still be arrested for driving under the influence (DUI) or driving while intoxicated (DWI) with a BAC of 0.07 percent or lower, especially if the driver is exhibiting signs of alcohol intoxication and appears drunk or impaired.
To get a drunk driving conviction, the prosecutor must pursue a criminal case against the driver and prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt (beyond a doubt based on ordinary reason and common sense). If the victim of a drunk driving accident brings a claim against the intoxicated driver who caused the accident, this will be brought as a civil matter since the accident victim is trying to recover monetary compensation and damages for their injuries.
How Does Alcohol Impair a Driver’s Abilities?
Consuming alcohol before or while operating a motor vehicle significantly impairs a driver’s abilities. Impairment takes place because alcohol is a depressant, and once consumed, it significantly slows down a person’s central nervous system function. Drivers who consume alcohol are more likely to suffer from blurred vision and delayed reaction time while operating a vehicle on the road. In other words, the driver may not apply the brakes or take other evasive action in time to avoid a serious motor vehicle collision.
When a driver is impaired by alcohol, they might fail to see another motor vehicle or pedestrian on or near the road and consequently bring about a serious collision. In the context of motor vehicle accidents, the driver could cause a collision with a stationary object on the side of the road or a concrete median strip. Moreover, the drunk driver’s blurred vision could result in a head-on impact with another motor vehicle and, in some cases, a fatality.
If you sustained an injury in a motor vehicle accident caused by alcohol impairment in another driver, an experienced drunk driving accident attorney in your jurisdiction could get to the bottom of how your accident occurred. Your attorney will then work to get you compensated for the injuries that you suffered in your accident.
Types of Injuries That Victims of Drunk Driving Accidents May Suffer
Drunk driving accidents often happen when an impaired driver loses control of their vehicle collides with another car, truck, motorcycle, or person. Since alcohol consumption often hinders a drunk driver’s reaction time and perception, these accidents typically occur at a high rate of speed.
A forceful impact with another vehicle can cause the accident victim’s body to be jerked around and about inside the vehicle. The force of the impact is sometimes so great that a part of the accident victim’s body collides with something in the vehicle, such as the driver or passenger side window, the headrest, the console, the dashboard, or the steering wheel. The extent of the injuries often increases if the motor vehicle’s airbag deploys in the accident.
Some of the most common injuries that drunk driving accident victims sustain include:
- Soft tissue injuries, such as muscular sprains, strains, and contusions
- Cuts, scrapes, and abrasions, which sometimes lead to unsightly scarring that causes significant pain or discomfort
- Fractures, broken bones, and other injuries that require a surgical procedure to correct
- Back and spinal cord injuries, including full and partial paralysis
- Damage to one or more internal organs
If you or a person you love suffered an injury in a drunk driving accident, a knowledgeable drunk driving accident attorney in your area can help you pursue the compensation and damages that you deserve for your injuries. If your loved one died from a drunk driving accident, a skilled attorney could file a wrongful death claim or lawsuit on behalf of your deceased loved one, bringing about a sense of justice and closure to your loved one’s unfortunate and untimely death.
Pursuing a Claim Against the At-Fault Driver of Your Accident
Motor vehicle operators on the roadway owe other drivers and passengers a high duty of care. Specifically, they have a duty to operate their vehicles safely and responsibly at all times while they are out on the road. This responsibility includes refraining from operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. When a motor vehicle operator drives while under the influence, they put everyone else on the road at risk.
If you have been injured in a motor vehicle collision that a drunk driver caused, you might file a claim or lawsuit against the drunk driver, seeking monetary compensation for your injuries and other damages. The process of filing a claim with the at-fault driver’s insurance company typically begins by submitting a demand package containing various documents.
A settlement demand package typically includes a copy of the police report, treatment medical records, medical bills, lost wage documentation, and an impact statement prepared by the victim. The victim impact statement typically describes the effects that the accident has had on the accident victim’s life, relationships, and overall well-being.
In some instances, and especially if law enforcement cited the drunk driver for reckless or intoxicated driving, the insurance company might go ahead and admit fault for the accident. In other words, the insurance company will accept liability on behalf of the at-fault driver. When that is the case, the insurance company will likely make an initial offer to settle your drunk driving car accident case.
Keep in mind that these initial offers are typically very low and do not fully compensate accident victims for the full extent of their injuries. Also, remember that insurance companies are in the business of making money, and they will try and limit a car accident victim’s payout as much they possibly can, at least initially. Therefore, retain an attorney to represent you after any accident.
An experienced drunk driving accident attorney in your jurisdiction can submit the demand package and negotiate with the insurance company adjuster on your behalf. After several rounds of negotiating, the insurance company might put an offer on the table that is worth accepting. However, if that does not happen, you have the option of litigating your case in the court system.
The litigation process begins when your attorney files a lawsuit against the at-fault drunk driver. Even though your attorney filed a lawsuit in your case, the case can still settle at any point along the way. In the meantime, the parties will take part in discovery, and the court will likely schedule a settlement conference to see if the parties can work the matter out. If the case does not settle, it will likely go to trial, and a jury will decide all disputed issues.
Alternatively, the parties might decide to take the case to binding arbitration. A neutral, third-party arbitrator decides the disputed issues in the case at a binding arbitration proceeding, which usually results in monetary compensation and damages. In the case of binding arbitration, neither party can further appeal the result.
Potential Damages You Can Recover in Drunk Driving Accident Cases
There are numerous types of damages that an accident victim might be eligible to recover following a car accident that a drunk driver caused. However, not all car accident cases are the same, and the types and amounts of damages that an accident victim can recover often vary from case to case and from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. The differences often lie in the nature and extent of the injuries sustained, the property damage sustained in the accident, and the types and amounts of medical treatment that the accident victim had to undergo.
First and foremost, the victim of a drunk driving car accident could pursue compensation for all related medical bills they incurred. Recovery of these medical damages can still take place even if the accident victim’s health insurer paid for some or all of the related treatment. In addition, if the drunk driving accident caused the accident victim to miss time from work, then they could file a claim for lost earnings.
In some cases, victims of drunk driving accidents sustain non-economic damages. These damages should compensate accident victims for all of their pain, inconvenience, suffering, emotional distress, and mental anguish that they suffered because of their accident. In cases where an accident victim suffers a permanent injury or disability, such as a paralysis injury or even a severe soft tissue injury, the accident victim could pursue compensation for loss of use of a body part or loss of enjoyment of life.
If the accident victim is injured so severely that they can no longer work at the same job (or in the same capacity), the accident victim could bring a claim for loss of earning capacity. Finally, some married victims of drunk driving accidents sustain injuries that prevent them from performing sexually. When that is the case, the accident victim could bring a loss of spousal companionship or consortium claim for damages.
An experienced drunk driving accident attorney in your area can determine what, if any, damages you are eligible to recover in your drunk driving accident case. Your lawyer will then advocate on your behalf in pursuit of those damages. If the insurance company refuses to offer you a favorable settlement that fully compensates you for your injuries and everything else that you suffered, your attorney could file a lawsuit and pursue litigation through the court system in your jurisdiction.