Proving Fault in Drunk Driving Crash

Hit By a Drunk Driver

Every 53 minutes on average, someone is killed in a drunk driving crash. Drivers are considered impaired when their blood-alcohol concentration (BAC) is .08 grams per deciliter or higher. Drunk drivers can face both civil liability and criminal charges for their actions. A civil case based on drunk driving is an injury lawsuit filed by the victim or the victim’s family in the case of a fatality of a drunk driver. A civil suit is meant to recover the economic damages, like the costs of medical treatment, lost wages, and property damage. It can also recover non-economic damages, such as pain and suffering. A criminal case is designed to protect the public from future harm by serving to prevent and punish drunk driving if there is no accident or injury involved. Those facing criminal drunk driving charges can face jail time, pay fines, have their licenses suspended, and attend court mandated alcohol teaching and prevention programs.

In 2012, 10,322 people died in drunk driving crashes. Although this number has decreased by 64% sine 1982, one death is one too many. Indeed, drunk drivers caused 32% of all vehicle traffic fatalities in 2012, and of those deaths, 65% were drivers, 27% were vehicle occupants, and 8% were non-occupants. Sadly, about one-third of drunk driving accidents come from repeat offenders. Even though many of those drivers have their licenses taken away, 50-75% of them drive anyway. This means that at any given point, we potentially share the roads with 2 million people with three or more drunk driving offenses. It costs Americans an estimated $132 billion per year to deal with alcohol-related crashes – crashes that could have been avoided by better education and drunk driving prevention apparatuses (such as an ignition interlock that requires convicted drunk driving offenders to blow into the device in order to start the ignition).

What Legal Action to Expect

If you are hit by a drunk driver, you should hire a personal injury lawyer. Your lawyer will try to prove that the drunk driver is guilty beyond reasonable doubt. This means that you, the plaintiff, have the burden of proof. The plaintiff’s lawyer will argue that the defendant breached his duty to operate the vehicle safely, the defendant’s breach caused injury to the plaintiff, and that the plaintiff suffered compensable damages. To do so, the plaintiff’s lawyer will focus on the drunk driver’s observed driving characteristics – speeding, weaving, and/or making wide turns, for instance. While the plaintiff’s lawyer will highlight the negative drive behavior, signaling an inebriated driver, the defense’s lawyer will focus on the positive driving cues, signaling behavior consistent with a sober driver. The plaintiff’s lawyer will also try to prove that the drunk driver failed the field sobriety test due to inebriation. The defense’s lawyer, in response, may argue that the defendant’s inability to successfully perform the tests was unrelated to substance consumption. The plaintiff’s lawyer will also cite the BAC test as evidence of driver negligence, if the defendant’s blood alcohol level was above .08%. The defense will challenge the accuracy and reliability of the BAC evaluation, questioning the integrity of the machines and the timing of the administered test. Again, the burden of proof is on the plaintiff side. The plaintiff’s lawyer must prove that the defendant was, in fact, driving under the influence of alcohol and/or dugs beyond reasonable doubt in order to get a winning verdict for her client. The defense is only responsible for arguing that the plaintiff did not prove her case – that she left room for reasonable doubt.

The Value of Your Claim

There are few things more important than fault when deciding the value of a car accident. That being said, it doesn’t get much more straightforward than a drunk driver causing a crash. Since the insurance adjuster does not want to chance a high verdict in court, he will be very motivated to settle your case before it gets to the court room. Though your “pain and suffering” amount may not be affected by the fact that you were hit by a drunk driver, the overall worth of your settlement likely will.

The value of your claim is very specific to your particular case. The compensation amount will depend on many factors, such as the drunk driver’s degree of fault, the amount of required medical care, wrongful death, and income loss. If the drunk driver seriously injured someone, the injured person’s claim might be worth more than the drunk driver’s insurance coverage. In that case, the drunk driver is going to have to pay out of her pocket, if she has the money, to settle the case. If the drunk driver refuses to contribute to a settlement, the injured person might take the case to trial. If the injured person wins in court (which is most likely), the drunk driver will have to pay the amount decided by the court.

If you were in a car accident, calculate the value of your case using the Claim Calculator.