Drunk drivers endanger everyone in the community, but those on the road are most at risk. Motor vehicle operators, passengers, motorcycle riders, bicyclists, and pedestrians can be seriously injured when there is a drunk driver on the road. You do not even have to be on the street to be injured by a drunk driver. Sometimes, these vehicles end up on a curb or inside a building. In the past, drunk drivers have crashed into houses and injure the unsuspecting residents inside.
You can hold drunk drivers accountable for their deadly choices. Injury victims have the right to receive compensation for the injuries and losses caused by a drunk driver, and the experienced Zephyrhills drunk driving accident lawyers at Nicoletti Accident Injury Lawyers protect this right. Learn what our experienced Zephyrhills personal injury lawyers can do for you in your DUI accident claim.
Injuries Can Take Place All Over Zephyrhills
Zephyrhills is a popular destination for both residents and tourists. Our year-round sunshine allows many different outdoor activities for enjoyment in the Hillsborough River State Park and Upper Hillsborough Preserve, as well as the Crystal Springs Preserve. History buffs will enjoy the Fort Foster State Historic Site and the Museum of Military History. The Train Depot Museum offers many fun activities for the whole family. When it’s time to cool off, Zephyr Park has water play to give you a break from the Florida heat.
Of course, more attractions lead to more traffic, and more traffic leads to more accidents. Be especially cautious when traveling on major thoroughfares such as Gail Boulevard and Eiland Boulevard. Watch for potential drunk drivers coming out of bars, restaurants, or any other establishment that serves alcohol.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Florida exceeds the national average on many critical drunk driving metrics. The rate of death was recently higher than the national average in all but one age group. The death rate was also higher for both male and female victims that year (drunk driving victims were also more than three times as likely to be male). Surveys and polls asked drivers if they had driven after drinking too much in the past thirty days, and once again, the national average was lower than that of Florida. All these facts indicate that you are more likely to sustain injuries, or even die, by a drunk driver in Florida than you would be in other parts of the country.
Small fluctuations in drunk driving statistics can deceive you. For example, WUSF Public Media recently reported that drunk driving fatalities dropped in Florida between two recent years. Although it may seem as though the drunk driving problem is improving here in Florida, it is important to note how small this change was. In the first year, there were 3,116 deaths due to car accidents in Florida, and 841 of these cases involved alcohol. In the second year, there were 814 deaths related to alcohol out of 3,133 total traffic fatalities.
These statistics must be compared to drunk driving statistics for the most recent times to see if the trend continues. 2020 will also be a statistical anomaly, due to the reduced number of miles driven nationwide as Americans stayed home during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Injury victims must assert their rights after being struck by a drunk driver. Holding drunk drivers responsible for their actions is crucial to reducing the frequency of drunk driving in our state. Because the criminal justice system cannot always prosecute or convict a drunk driver, injury victims need to assert their legal rights through the civil courts as well.
Drunk driving cases can be more complicated than regular car accident cases. You will have many questions, and the claims process might feel overwhelming. You don’t have to go through this alone.
Let our experienced Zephyrhills car accident injury lawyers handle your drunk driving accident case so you can focus on recovering from your injuries. To help you understand the process better, what follows are the answers to some of the most common questions our attorneys get about drunk driver cases.
What about the criminal case?
If it is evident that the driver is drunk, they will likely be arrested at the scene and then processed at the police station. The arrest does not guarantee, however, that a criminal case against the defendant will go forward. Sometimes prosecutors do not have sufficient evidence to make a case against the defendant, or the court excludes evidence due to warrant violations or other constitutional issues. At times, the evidence is too marginal to support criminal charges.
For example, if a defendant’s blood alcohol is .07, they are not presumed to be impaired under traditional .08 statutes. The prosecutor could still charge the defendant with reckless driving, but this is a lesser charge with less severe consequences than drunk driving.
Regardless of what happens with the criminal case, you have the right to proceed with your Zephyrhills drunk driving accident claim against the defendant. Evidence of impairment is also strong evidence of negligence. If the police noted slurred speech, bloodshot eyes, or the smell of alcohol on the driver’s breath, the insurance company is likely to accept liability. Criminal charges against the defendant are also strong evidence of negligence, even if a criminal court later reduces or dismisses the charges.
Your Zephyrhills drunk driving accident lawyer can advise you on how your claim is proceeding. As the victim of a crime, you have certain rights under the Florida Crime Victims’ Bill of Rights, and the prosecutor’s office will advise you on how the criminal case is proceeding.
What if the drunk driver engaged in a hit and run?
Unfortunately, people panic at the scene of an accident, especially if they have been drinking and believe themselves to be the cause of the accident. As a result, some defendants will make the terrible choice to hit and run.
If you are the victim of a hit and run, try to gather as much information about the driver as you can. The license plate number is by far the strongest evidence you could secure, and you might get it by snapping a quick picture with your camera phone. A description of the vehicle and driver can also help law enforcement find them.
If the driver is never identified or found, you might have the right to be compensated under an uninsured motorist provision on your own auto insurance. This type of insurance is an optional coverage that takes effect when you are hit by someone without auto insurance or someone never identified or found.
Florida also requires Personal Injury Protection. PIP is coverage in your own insurance policy for injuries you sustain in an accident, regardless of who caused it. Your Zephyrhills drunk driving accident lawyer will help you explore all options for compensation if the defendant flees the scene of the crime.
Drunk driving is strong evidence of negligence. In most cases, the drunk driver’s insurance company will accept fault for the accident. Such acceptance is not always the case, however.
It may not be clear whether the driver was actually impaired. Perhaps the driver was taking prescription medication that made them sluggish but not intoxicated. Maybe the driver had other medical conditions that contributed to the accident. If it is not entirely clear that the driver was drunk, the insurance company may not accept liability.
Even if the driver was intoxicated, there might be other factors that contributed to the accident. If the drunk driver struck a pedestrian who was jaywalking, the insurance company might determine that the pedestrian was partly at fault for failing to cross the street at a designated crosswalk. Perhaps there was a defect in the vehicle that caused the driver to crash.
The defendant’s insurance company will look for any possible reason to shift the blame for the accident on someone or something other than their drunk driver. It is crucial for injury victims to have their own car accident lawyer. Your attorney will help you deal with any legal issues that arise to award you with the compensation you deserve.
Will I have to go to court?
Just because you have a personal injury claim, or even file a lawsuit, does not mean that you will have to go to court. In fact, the vast majority of personal injury claims across the United States come to a settlement without a trial. This makes it likely that you will not have to go to court to get the compensation you deserve. If your attorney determines that you do need to take the case to court, don’t worry. They will make sure you received thorough preparation.
Here are the steps that a personal injury case follows through the court:
- Your attorney will file a personal injury case in the court on your behalf.
- The defendant will have a short time to respond to your lawsuit.
- After the defendant responds, both sides will begin investigating the case (known as the discovery phase) and exchanging information (the disclosure phase).
- The defense attorney might ask to take your recorded deposition, which is also an opportunity for the defense to ask you questions about the accident and your injuries. Although the questioning does not occur in a courtroom, you give answers under oath. Your attorney will prepare you for the deposition before it occurs.
- The court will schedule periodic status conferences during the discovery period. Both attorneys will meet to let the judge know the case’s status and resolve any disputes that arise.
- The parties can agree to settle the case at any point during discovery. If a settlement is not possible, the case will proceed to trial.
How much will I receive for my injuries?
Compensation in a personal injury claim depends on many factors, such as the documented total value of your lost wages, medical bills, and other tangible losses. The severity of your injuries determines the value of your pain and suffering, the largest component of most personal injury awards. Factors such as pre-existing conditions and painful medical treatments can affect the amount of entitled compensation for your pain and suffering.
Another major factor in evaluating a personal injury claim is predicting how the case will do at trial. The insurance company is trying to settle your case to avoid going to trial. If the plaintiff has a weak case or does not make a very good witness, the insurance company will make a low settlement offer because there is less chance that a jury will award a large sum of money.
If the defendant seems like they will be a poor witness at trial, the settlement offer must be higher because a jury is likely to give the plaintiff a large award at trial. Such a situation often happens in auto accident cases involving a drunk driver. The defendant is not very sympathetic to jurors.
There is no excuse for drunk driving, and jurors understand that the drunk driver was a danger to everyone in their vicinity at the time. Insurance companies are often willing to make larger settlement offers in drunk driving cases to avoid putting the defendant on the stand at trial.
What if a Zephyrhills driver refuses a breath test?
Like other states, Florida has an implied consent law, meaning that all drivers consent to alcohol tests administered by law enforcement officers simply by driving in Florida. If a law enforcement officer suspects a driver is impaired, and the driver refuses to consent to a test, the law can suspend that driver’s license even if the test later proves that there was little or no alcohol in the driver’s body. The purpose of implied consent laws is to encourage drivers to consent to alcohol tests without requiring officers to obtain a search warrant.
If the driver refuses to consent to a blood or breath test, the officers on scene can still obtain a search warrant. Judges remain on call at all hours (days, nights, weekends, and holidays) for this purpose. Once a judge issues a search warrant, law enforcement officers can execute it without the driver’s consent. This means that law enforcement can still collect critical, time-sensitive evidence (such as blood and breath tests), even if the driver initially refuses to take a Breathalyzer test.
What if drugs also impaired the driver?
Florida has different impairment statutes for different substances. Alcohol statutes prohibit alcohol impairment at specific amounts (such as 0.08). The law prohibits drug use and driving more broadly because, unlike alcohol, scientists have not set specific amounts of different drugs known to impair the ability to drive.
Drugs that are always illegal (such as heroin or methamphetamine) can result in an impaired driving conviction at any concentration. Marijuana, which can be legal to imbibe with a medical marijuana card in Florida, or prescription drugs are slightly more complicated. It is possible to receive a conviction for impaired driving with any amount of marijuana in your system. Because laws protect your medical marijuana use, however, it usually requires more proof of impairment for prosecutors to secure a conviction.
All of these points only pertain to a criminal conviction. In a civil claim, the injury victim need only prove that a driver was negligent. Any amount of any substance in a driver’s system can lead to a finding that they were negligent for operating a motor vehicle, including substances that can be used legally, like prescription medications. Regardless of any criminal conviction, all drivers still have a legal duty of care to other drivers and road users.
What if I was the passenger of a Zephyrhills drunk driver?
Drunk drivers are negligent, and negligent drivers have a legal obligation to pay for all the injuries they cause. This obligation includes injuries to their own passengers. Passengers can (and should) file injury claims with their driver’s auto insurance. Although sometimes the insurance company might try to claim that you were partly at fault for knowingly getting into the car with a drunk driver, this assertion does not mean that you cannot receive compensation.
If they refuse to make a fair settlement offer, you still have the right to take your case to a jury and let your peers decide whether you bear any fault for your injuries. This determination is very specific to each case and why you need to get your own legal advice from an attorney on your side and not from the insurance company working for the other guy.
What if the Zephyrhills drunk driver who injured me has no insurance?
If the drunk driver has no insurance, it is unlikely that they will have other assets to satisfy a judgment against them. Their lack of insurance does not mean that you have no compensation available to cover your losses.
If you have uninsured motorist coverage on your own insurance policy, this coverage applies to the situation, and you can seek compensation through your own insurance company.
If not, other claims could arise from the accident. For example:
- The law requires that all Florida drivers carry personal injury protection (PIP) coverage, which covers up to $10,000 of your medical bills, regardless of who caused the accident.
- If your vehicle had defective brakes or safety equipment that led to your injuries, you could have a product liability claim against the manufacturer.
- If you were on the job when the accident occurred, you likely have a workers’ compensation claim.
These are just a few of many examples, so be sure to consult with an injury lawyer about all potential sources of compensation. Your health insurance carrier also must cover medical bills in accordance with your policy (allowing for copays, deductibles, and other contributions). The policy ensures that you can receive immediate medical treatment while your lawyer investigates your potential legal claims.
What if a Zephyrhills drunk driver killed my loved one?
Far too many injury victims die every year because of drunk drivers. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that drunk drivers killed nearly 9,000 Florida victims over a decade. The CDC also reports that about one in every three traffic deaths in the United States involves a drunk driver.
It is important to remember that these statistics represent real grieving families. Thousands of drivers could kill again if there are no consequences for their drunk driving. Surviving family members (or legal heirs) have the right to file a wrongful death claim against a drunk driver who kills their victim. Survivors must exercise this right, hold the drunk driver accountable for their actions, and deter drunk driving in the future. Florida’s Wrongful Death Act determines who may sue, when an individual must file the claim, and what losses are recoverable in a wrongful death case.
It can be difficult for grieving loved ones to litigate a wrongful death claim. Take some time to discuss with your accident lawyer what the process of filing a wrongful death claim actually involves. You need to hold drunk drivers accountable for their actions, and it can help provide you with a sense of resolution and justice about an awful situation. But you should prepare for the process by thoroughly understanding what it actually will involve.
What if I cannot afford a Zephyrhills drunk driving accident lawyer?
You can! Our Zephyrhills drunk driving accident lawyers do not require you to pay any fee upfront. Instead, we work on contingency. A contingency fee agreement means that you agree to pay your attorney a set percentage of your Zephyrhills drunk driving accident settlement. If the attorney must file a lawsuit on your behalf, the process will involve a lot more legal work, so the percentage will usually increase at that point.
This system ensures that injury victims can protect their legal rights by hiring their own lawyers, even if they do not have the means to pay attorneys fees out of their own pockets. Our Zephyrhills drunk driving accident attorneys are proud to stand up for the rights of injury victims and their families without requiring them to pay money out of pocket.
Many factors can affect your legal rights after a drunk driving case. You should not have to worry about criminal court proceedings, a personal injury claim, and the potential of going to civil court when you should be recovering from your injuries. Let an experienced drunk driving auto accident lawyer protect your legal rights.
At Nicoletti Accident Injury Lawyers, our experienced personal injury lawyers have helped many Zephyrhills injury victims get fair compensation for injuries sustained in an accident caused by a drunk driver. Call (727) 845-5972 or contact us online for your free consultation.