Whether it involves attending a party at a private residence or enjoying an unforgettable evening at one of the city’s best breweries, bars. or dance clubs, St. Louis has plenty of opportunities to get out and drink around the city. It is, after all, the home of Budweiser.
Unfortunately, this also means many opportunities for individuals impaired by alcohol to get behind the wheel of a car and—in a matter of seconds—take lives or cause permanent injuries.
If you sustained injuries or lost a loved one as a result of a St. Louis drunk driving accident, an experienced St. Louis drunk driving accident lawyer from the Bruning Law Firm can help you understand your legal options for obtaining compensation for the expenses and impacts to your quality of life that you have incurred due to your injury.
For over 35 years, we have committed ourselves to assisting the injured of St. Louis get the compensation they need through our no-fee promise. To ensure that everyone who needs our assistance has access to it, this promise ensures that you will not have to pay an upfront fee or have to pay for our legal services until we have achieved a positive resolution in your case.
Understanding Alcohol Impairment in St. Louis
Missouri, like most states in the U.S., has a legal impairment limit of 0.08 percent. Accordingly, the law considers drivers who have a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.08 grams of alcohol per deciliter of blood as legally intoxicated. Many people seem to believe that alcohol does not begin to impair a drivers’ ability to operate a motor vehicle safely until they’ve reached the legal impairment limit.
However, the effects of alcohol on the body actually begin after just one drink. More than 1,700 people a year die in accidents caused by drivers with BACs of 0.01 to 0.07. In Missouri, around four out of every 10 crashes resulting in a fatality involve a driver with a BAC of at least 0.01.
Dangerous Deficits That Lead to St. Louis Drunk Driving Accidents
Approximately 28 people in the U.S. die each day in drunk driving crashes, resulting in more than 10,000 deaths a year. In Missouri, more than 200 people die as a result of alcohol-impaired drivers each year, and alcohol impairment constitutes a factor in slightly more than a quarter of all the state’s traffic-related fatalities. St. Louis’ active nightlife and the plethora of activities increase the risk of drunk driving accidents around the city due to the high accessibility of alcohol in social situations and the increase in traffic on major thoroughfares.
Our bodies absorb alcohol directly through the walls of the stomach and the small intestine. From there, the alcohol enters the bloodstream and causes impacts to the body’s central nervous system before eventually metabolizing in the liver. The central nervous system serves as the complex messaging system from the brain to all parts of the body through the spinal cord. As impairment progressively creates deficits in cognitive function, it results in deficits in thinking, reasoning, and muscle coordination, all needed for the safe operation of a motor vehicle. Below, we discuss some of the major deficits that begin with the very first drink.
Decline in Visual Function
With a BAC of 0.02, which most people reach within an hour after having just one drink, one of the first noticeable impacts involves a decline in visual function regarding the ability to rapidly track a moving target. We all need this function to attend to traffic on the roadway. A driver needs to rapidly track a moving target to determine a safe gap in traffic in which to pull into a travel lane or make emergency driving maneuvers to avoid hitting a vehicle that has run a red light or has swerved into the driver’s lane of travel.
Decline in Ability to Multitask
Alcohol impairment also impacts a driver’s ability to multitask.
Multitasking constitutes one of the most important functions of driving, as one often must focus on more than one factor or take more than one action at a time, spreading out the brain’s resources, which include:
- Visual perception, which helps drivers’ brains interpret what they see.
- Auditory perception, which helps drivers’ brains interpret what they hear.
- Declarative memory, which involves information the brain has stored that requires conscious effort to be retrieved. In other words, many aspects of driving require you to actively engage in the act of recalling the safety rules or requirements to complete the action.
- Working memory, which refers to limited capacity storage of information in the brain that you will only need for a short time, such as the knowledge that a driver is traveling in your blind spot and you will need to look over your shoulder to ensure that the vehicle has moved from that area before changing lanes.
- Motor control, which refers to the brain’s control over the body’s movement. Motor control involves both of the body’s reflexes, such as the instinctual reaction to slam on the brakes when a driver perceives a hazard, as well as conscious actions, such as steering or braking the motor vehicle.
Drivers deploy all of these resources while driving, often at the same time as using other resources. As drivers become more impaired, they lose their ability to access these resources to perform the functions needed for driving.
Because drunk drivers suffer declines in their ability to multitask, they will often focus on one aspect of safe driving while completely forgetting about others. Consider a driver who focuses on staying in one lane of travel but completely forgets to travel at a safe and acceptable speed for the roadway.
Like alcohol impairment, speeding constitutes a major cause of fatal accidents in St. Louis. Speeding reduces the time a driver has to perceive and react to a hazard, while also increasing the distance the vehicle’s brakes need to pull the weight of the vehicle to a complete stop. Speeding reduces the effectiveness of the vehicle’s protections while increasing the severity of the crash. Unfortunately, drivers often engage in the two risky driving behaviors of speeding and alcohol impairment simultaneously, as alcohol impairment causes drivers to speed more regularly.
Short-Term Memory Loss
Drivers use their memories in many ways when navigating St. Louis’ busy roadways, including to remember locations and routes, or even the meanings of road signs or basic traffic safety rules. Short-term memory loss occurs in most drivers around the time they reach the .08 legal impairment limit for driving.
Reduced Information Processing Capacity
Information processing refers to your brain’s ability to gather, store, and retrieve information needed to make a decision or respond. For example, stopping at a traffic light requires a driver approaching an intersection to see that a light has turned red, recall that a red light means he or she needs to stop and respond by depressing the brakes. An impaired driver can struggle with any aspect of that information processing, including not noticing that the light turned red, not remembering that a red light means stop, or not remembering to depress the brakes in time to stop.
Reduced Ability to Maintain Lane Position and Brake Appropriately
As a driver reaches the legal impairment limit for driving and even beyond that limit, his or her ability to maintain lane position will decrease as a result of the decline in motor function and information processing needed to safely operate the motor vehicle.
The Type of Injuries Suffered in Drunk Driving Accidents
Because drunk drivers incur such a substantial loss in their ability to control their vehicles, drunk driving accidents often result in catastrophic injuries. These injuries include traumatic brain injuries and spinal cord injuries, both of which often result in life-altering complications and permanent deficits that make it difficult or impossible for the individual to earn an income or complete personal care tasks independently. Other serious injuries commonly caused by drunk driving accidents include broken bones, internal injuries, damage to the spinal vertebrae and discs, burns, soft tissue injuries, and limb amputation.
Seeking Compensation for Injuries Incurred in a St. Louis Drunk Driving Accident
If you have suffered injuries or lost a loved one as a result of a drunk driving accident in St. Louis, you can obtain compensation for the expenses and impacts of your injury or loss by filing a legal claim in civil court. For injuries, you would file a personal injury lawsuit, and you generally must file this claim within five years of the date on which the accident occurred. For drunk driving accidents involving death, family members of the deceased can seek compensation by filing a wrongful death lawsuit within three years of the date on which the death occurred.
Liability refers to legal responsibility. To file a lawsuit against an at-fault party, you must show how or why that party caused your injuries or your loved one’s death.
You can prove liability by establishing:
- The at-fault party owed you a duty of care. The duty of care constitutes the actions that a reasonable person would take in a given set of circumstances to protect the safety and property of others. Drivers owe other users of a roadway a duty of care to operate their motor vehicles safely and legally.
- The at-fault party breached the duty of care. The breach refers to the actions that the driver took that contradicted the duty of care in the given situation. Operating a motor vehicle while impaired by alcohol constitutes a breach of the driver’s duty of care, as drunk driving involves both unsafe and illegal behavior.
- The breach in the duty of care resulted in the accident in which you sustained injuries.
- You sustained injuries and damages as a result of the accident.
In the legal arena, the term recovering damages means receiving compensation for losses incurred in an accident. Economic damages involve compensation for the actual expenses that an injured individual incurred in the accident, such as medical bills. Non-economic damages involve compensation for the psychological impacts of the injury you received in the drunk driving accident.
Common damages claimed in a drunk driving accident personal injury case include:
- Medical expenses
- Lost wages
- Loss of future earning capacity
- Property damage
- Physical pain and suffering
- Emotional distress
Common damages claimed in a drunk driving wrongful death case include:
- Funeral and burial or cremation expenses
- Medical expenses relating to the treatment of the deceased’s final injury
- The value of wages and benefits the deceased likely would have earned if he or she lived
- Pain and suffering experienced by the deceased between the time of the accident and the time of death
- The value of services, consortium, companionship, comfort, instruction, guidance, counsel, and training provided by the deceased to his or her family members
St. Louis Drunk Driving Accident FAQ
Drunk drivers cause thousands of deaths across the United States every year, and in Missouri, more than a quarter of all fatal traffic accidents involve a driver who has been drinking. If a drunk driver injured you in St. Louis, you can seek compensation for the expenses and impacts of your injuries through a personal injury lawsuit.
An experienced car accident attorney from Bruning Law Firm can provide information about this process and can help you with your claim.
Personal injury claims are complex undertakings, filled with many procedural requirements, rules about how to obtain evidence, time limits for filings, and other aspects that an individual without legal training could find overwhelming, especially after a drunk driving accident.
To discuss the specifics of your case, contact an experienced car accident attorney as soon as possible after your accident. Read below for answers to some common questions about drunk driving accident claims.
I was just in an accident and I think the driver is drunk—what should I do?
The first thing you should do, if possible, is get yourself in a safe place and call 911. If you have observed behavior from the other driver that leads you to believe that they are drunk, tell the emergency dispatcher so that police officers can prepare for when they arrive.
If you feel safe doing so, you should attempt to exchange information with the other driver. You are legally required to share minimal information with the other driver or with law enforcement after an accident. Obtain from the driver their name, address, vehicle registration number, license plate number, driver’s license number, and the name of their insurance provider and insurance policy number.
If the at-fault driver is drunk, they might act aggressively and you might not feel safe asking for this information. In such a case, remain at the scene and wait for an officer to arrive and collect the information. Obtain the officer’s name and badge number and inquire about obtaining a copy of the police report.
If you are injured, seek medical help immediately and contact an experienced drunk driving accident attorney to learn more about the next steps to bring a claim.
What is the legal blood alcohol content limit in Missouri?
The grams of alcohol in a deciliter of blood determines a person's alcohol impairment. This is called blood-alcohol concentration, or BAC. Like most states in the nation, the legal impairment limit in Missouri is 0.08 percent, as determined through tests of the individual’s breath, blood, or urine. At 0.08 percent BAC or higher, a person can be convicted of DWI. Individuals with a BAC of 0.15 or higher can face aggravated DWI charges, which carry stiffer penalties.
Individuals under the age of 21 in St. Louis fall under a legal impairment limit of 0.02 percent—which is equivalent to roughly one alcoholic drink within an hour of driving. Federal law limits drivers operating a commercial vehicle under a commercial driver’s license (CDL) to a legal limit of 0.04 percent.
Alcohol begins degrading the skills a driver needs to operate their motor vehicle safely long before they reach the legal impairment level. If the police give the driver a blood or breath alcohol test that indicates impairment, you can use that evidence to prove liability in a civil claim for compensation.
If I file a personal injury lawsuit, will I have to go to court?
Most personal injury claims resolve before they ever make it to trial, via settlement agreements. Chances are, your case will resolve in this way too. However, if you file a crunk driving accident claim and the at-fault party’s insurance provider fails to agree to a settlement that fairly compensates you for the expenses and impacts of your injury, you might need to take your case to court. In case this happens, your attorney will prepare for a trial.
Police arrested the driver in my case at the scene—does that mean I can’t file a claim?
You are not precluded in any way from filing a civil claim against a drunk driver simply because they are facing criminal consequences. The criminal process of convicting the driver is initiated by the State against the drunk driver for violation of drunk driving laws, while your claim is against the driver for compensation for the injuries and impacts their wrongdoing caused you.
I was hit by a drunk driver while working as a delivery driver—should I file a personal injury claim or worker’s comp?
You recover compensation for most workplace accidents or those you incur during the scope of your employment through Missouri’s worker’s compensation program, which is a form of no-fault insurance that most St. Louis employers must purchase for their employees. This policy covers wage loss and medical expenses for injuries occurring on the job, regardless of fault. However, a drunk driving accident would likely be a personal injury matter as the liable party was a third party (someone who is not your employer or your co-worker).
Find a St. Louis attorney that deals with worker’s compensation and vehicle accident claims, who knows the claim processes for both, and who can navigate your claim, given the specific facts.
Can anyone besides the drunk driver be liable for a St. Louis drunk driving accident?
In certain circumstances, there can be other sources of liability in a St. Louis drunk driving accident, including:
- Other roadway users whose own actions could have contributed to the accident
- The owner of the car, if different than the drunk driver and if you can prove that they knew that the drunk driver was impaired or had a tendency of driving while impaired and allowed that driver to use their vehicle
- A bar, restaurant, or liquor store that served the drunk driver alcohol before the accident, if you can show that they knowingly supplied alcohol to a driver under the age of 21 or a visibly intoxicated person.
How do I prove a drunk driver was liable for causing the accident?
To prove liability in a St. Louis drunk driving case, you must show:
- The at-fault party owed you a duty of care. In this case, the duty was to drive safely and legally to protect the lives and property of others.
- The at-fault party breached their duty of care by driving while impaired.
- The at-fault party’s alcohol impairment caused the accident that injured you, and your injuries caused the expenses and quality-of-life impacts for which you are claiming compensation.
What compensation can I recover after a St. Louis drunk driving accident?
Missouri law allows St. Louis drunk driving accident victims to recover compensation for the tangible expenses of their injury as well as for other life impacts they incurred as a result of the accident.
Victims can recover compensation for:
- All medical expenses associated with the treatment of accident-related injuries and complications, including such things as residence in a long-term care facility, if you are no longer able to live independently, and the provision of assistive devices such as crutches, a wheelchair, or prosthetic limb.
- Lost wages, if you are too injured to work.
- Loss of future earning capacity, if the injury caused permanent deficits that damage your ability to earn an income.
- Property damage, such as the cost of repairing or replacing the vehicle you were driving when the accident occurred.
- The physical and emotional pain and suffering you experienced because of your injury.
The insurance company has already offered me a settlement—should I take it?
If you have not yet talked to a St. Louis drunk driving accident attorney about your claim, you should not accept an insurance company’s settlement offer. This offer is often made over the phone by an insurance adjuster soon after an accident. Insurance adjusters serve the company’s bottom line, which requires denying or minimizing claim payouts. The adjuster helps the company make money by offering an unfairly low settlement very soon after the accident.
This early on, the victim likely has not had the chance to speak with an attorney and learn more about the value of their claim, and is also injured and overwhelmed, and possibly more prone to accept the offer in exchange for a quick settlement.
Accepting such a settlement is almost always a mistake and one you cannot undo, even if you later realize that the compensation you received will not cover your damages.
Another common insurance tactic is for the adjuster to ask you to release your medical records to them. Remember, the adjuster’s job is not to maximize your compensation—it’s to make money for the insurance company. Releasing your medical records or providing other information to the insurance adjuster can provide information that they can use against you to reduce the value of your claim. An attorney can handle the communication with the insurance company so that you can focus on your recovery and moving forward with your life.
How can an attorney help me with my case?
The most important thing a St. Louis drunk driving accident attorney can provide is high-quality service to obtain compensation for your injuries. The experience and knowledge of an attorney are important for many reasons, but especially because the at-fault party’s insurance company has its own legal counsel and is immediately poised to resist your claim. The court, and opposing counsel, will not excuse a lack of experience or understanding of the law, and a simple error could make a difference of thousands of dollars—or more—between the compensation you deserve and what you actually recover.
An attorney can also save you time and stress. Gathering evidence can be a difficult and tedious process, as can negotiating a settlement and going through all of the other hoops of the claim process. Lacking knowledge of how to obtain evidence or negotiate a settlement only prolongs the process. An experienced personal injury firm has the institutional knowledge to get your claim in motion immediately and streamline it as much as possible. You have been injured and are trying to recover. You do not need the stress of having to fight insurance companies to pay out.
Some of the most valuable services a St. Louis drunk driving accident attorney can provide in your pursuit of compensation include:
- Determining potential liability and insurance resources associated with your case
- Estimating your claim’s value based on the expenses and impacts you have already experienced because of your injury and those you will likely encounter
- Managing communications with the at-fault party’s insurance provider, including skilled negotiations to maximize the compensation you receive
- In the event an insurance company refuses to settle for a fair amount, filing your claim in court and representing you in all court-related proceedings
- Collecting the evidence and witness testimony needed to prove your claim in court
- Assistance collecting your settlement or award
Recovering from injuries caused by a drunk driver is difficult without worrying about paying for your medical expenses and other impacts. Do yourself a favor and contact an experienced St. Louis drunk driving accident attorney to fight for the compensation you deserve.
Injured by a St. Louis Drunk Driver? The Bruning Law Firm Can Help
St. Louis provides plenty of opportunities for its residents and visitors to socialize and enjoy a drink. However, these opportunities also create a risk of drunk driving accidents that could result in injury or death. When drivers choose to make the dangerous decision to drink and drive, they should prepare to face the consequences. If they cause an accident that results in injury and/or death, those drivers should expect to bear liability for the costs and other damages stemming from the accident.
If you have suffered injuries or lost a loved one due to an accident caused by an impaired driver, a St. Louis drunk driving accident lawyer from the Bruning Law Firm can help you make sense of your legal options for obtaining compensation for the many expenses and impacts you have experienced as a result of the accident. We serve victims of drunk drivers throughout the St. Louis area, including those injured in the Metro East of Illinois and the city’s western suburbs.
For your free case evaluation, contact us online or call (314) 735-8100. During your evaluation, you can discuss the details of your drunk driving accident, ask questions about your legal options, and determine your eligibility to seek compensation for the full cost of your injuries.
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