Is a Drunk Driver Deemed Automatically at Fault for an Accident?
Drunk driving is illegal and dangerous. But the mere fact that you got into an accident with a drunk driver does not automatically make that driver liable to you for your damages—even if the state prosecuted the driver for a criminal offense.
To receive compensation for injuries and losses suffered in an accident with a drunk driver, you (with the help of an experienced drunk driving car accident lawyer) must prove in court how the accident happened and who should bear the blame. The drunk driver’s role in the crash may simplify that requirement, but it does not eliminate it. Here’s a look at how obtaining compensation works, even with a drunk driver.
Drunk Driving’s Heavy Toll
Years of advocacy campaigns and aggressive law enforcement have made it virtually impossible for the public to ignore the extreme dangers of drunk driving. But that has not stopped drivers from getting behind the wheel after drinking. The consequences of those reckless and illegal decisions are as predictable as they are senseless.According to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA), drunk driving led to 11,654 accident deaths in a recent year, accounting for 30 percent of the annual traffic fatalities. That’s roughly one drunk driving death every forty-five minutes.
Hundreds of thousands more people suffer injuries in drunk driving crashes annually. Some heal in time with proper medical care, but others sustain catastrophic trauma, like brain or spinal cord damage that alters the course of their lives.
Drunk driving accidents also take a heavy financial toll. By one estimate, drunk driving costs the nation more than $44 billion annually. The burden falls disproportionately on families who lost loved ones in drunk driving crashes and those who suffered injuries, saddling many of them with crushing medical expenses, income losses, and diminished opportunities.
Do criminal charges determine fault?
The answer to this might surprise you. Just because a person was intoxicated doesn’t mean they were the cause of an accident. The victim must show that the driver was negligent due to intoxication, as the burden of proof rests on the accuser of any crime. While intoxicated driving is dangerous, intoxication and fault aren’t mutually inclusive without proving the driver was negligent.
Negligence requires three conditions:
- Duty of care: Licensed drivers are obligated to operate vehicles safely and in compliance with the law. Drivers must test to obtain a license and comply with the requirements and standards to be physically and mentally able to drive a motor vehicle. By becoming a licensed driver, you agree to this contract to operate your vehicle safely.
- Breach of duty: Violating traffic laws, ignoring traffic signals, driving over the speed limit, driving erratically, and weaving through traffic could all constitute a breach of the duty to drive safely.
- Causation: Did drinking and driving cause the accident, or would it have happened regardless of the driver’s intoxication? Law enforcement’s investigation can provide an idea of what may have led to the accident. Intoxication may or may not be a factor. An attorney can review the evidence, from traffic cameras to eyewitness accounts, to determine if intoxication played a part.
How to prove the drunk driver was negligent
Many factors go into successfully proving another party was at fault in an accident. Negligence can take on many forms, and even though driving under the influence is a form of negligence, it is only applicable if their activities were responsible for the accident.
For example, a T-bone collision resulting in injuries with a drunk driver might not hold the impaired driver accountable if the traffic lights malfunctioned, causing the accident. A drunk driver being rear-ended in a collision by someone texting and driving does not mean the drunk driver was at fault for the accident. Evidence of the circumstances of the accident and other situational factors must be taken into account to prove the three conditions of negligence.
Third-party involvement may also be a factor. Liquor distributors such as liquor stores, bars, and even the hosts of house parties may find themselves liable for collisions if they served an already intoxicated person and allowed them to drive. However, these laws vary from state to state, and an attorney can look at the facts and construct an argument based on these events to build your case.
In at-fault states, all information available about the accident is considered and applied to the case to determine the degree of fault for everyone involved in the accident. Driving under the influence is important in determining the percentage of fault for many accidents. Law enforcement may speculate fault at the scene of an accident, and later, insurance companies may use this information to adjust their settlement offers. An attorney can also use this information in negotiations, arbitration, and even conduct their own investigation for discovery which may be used in court for a jury trial if necessary.
Seriousness of injuries
As injuries become more serious, expenses will build, and losses will take time to estimate fully. An attorney can assess these damages as they come in, which could take several months or even projected into years.
These losses can include:
- Medical bills: Hospital stays, ambulance charges, surgery, testing, follow-up treatment, and pain management are all elements you can expect depending on the nature of your injuries.
- Lost time at work: Between recovering from your injuries and lacking a vehicle to get around, you may lose time at work. Lost time at work could mean a reduction of your pay, temporary or permanent disability, and even loss of your job and a significant decrease in your income.
- Future wages: Your ability to work will impact what you can make in the future and how well you can support yourself and your loved ones.
- Vocational rehabilitation: Your injuries might require you to train for another job, especially if you have suffered permanent damage to your body or cognitive damage due to Traumatic Brain Injury.
- Pain and suffering: The events of the accident might cause post-traumatic stress disorder. Some injuries bring permanent physical pain, which may require long-term pain management. The psychological damage is difficult to put a price on, but it deserves compensation nonetheless.
Hire an attorney
Once the dust settles after the accident, the clock starts ticking on how long you have to file a claim against the driver at fault. Two years is typically the statute of limitations to file a lawsuit, but some states provide up to four years to seek compensation for damages. The initial offer from the at-fault party’s insurance company is likely significantly less than you deserve. Insurance companies like to protect their bottom line and will lowball offers to save money, regardless of the actions and negligence of their clients.
Hiring an attorney will help you protect your rights and meet the statute of limitations. During these confusing times, you are likely struggling with putting your life back together, paying bills that continue to stack up, healing your body, and overcoming the mental hardships that come with a traumatic event. Taking on the system by yourself is not in your best interests. Hiring an attorney usually yields higher settlement amounts, and if necessary, a lawyer can represent you in a trial by jury.
A DUI doesn’t automatically assign fault in an accident claim. An attorney can help you prove negligence and determine the amount you should receive for your injuries. If a drunk driver has injured you in a motor vehicle accident, protect your rights and contact a St Louis car accident lawyer for your free consultation. An attorney can take the stress of the legal struggle off you as you recover and get you the compensation you deserve.
I represent individuals in Missouri and Illinois in all types of personal injury cases. In my short time here I have obtained a judgment for $2.5 million and settled a large class action lawsuit for a confidential amount.
I love the city of St. Louis and support it and give back whenever I can. Recently I was appointed by Mayor Francis Slay to serve on the Advisory Board for the Gateway Mall.
I am married to my lovely wife Lauren and we have two beautiful daughters, Mia and Bridget.