Every day in the United States, approximately 30 people die in alcohol-related collisions (this equates to about one life lost per hour). Though DUI arrests and crashes have risen in some states over the last few years, the decades-long falling death toll may be partially attributed to stricter legislation and more vigorous litigation. So, what is it about DUI cases that differ from other car accident lawsuits? To help answer this complicated question, the experienced car accident lawyers at Rutter Mills have provided a complete video as a guide through your accident claim.
As the victim of a drunk driving collision, you have the right to pursue compensation following the events that led to your injury or other damages. Such damages include harm that befell personal property or the loss of your vehicle, for example. To exercise this right, you must file both a lawsuit and insurance claim after gathering the necessary documentation to prove the damages you experienced and the fault of the negligent driver. Examples of such documentation include the following:
- Medical evaluations: Immediately after the accident, it is best that you visit a medical professional. They will inform you of the extent of your injuries and provide critical paperwork for your case. The visit summary supplied by your physician will reflect your precise physical condition following the crash, and related documents will contain the sums of your care costs.
- Police report: A statement directly from a law enforcement officer that responded to your case can prove to be a make-or-break element of your lawsuit. The officer will record every possible detail of the collision, including their professional opinion regarding who was at fault. In the case of a drunk driving collision, the officer will collect evidence of the negligent driver’s blood-alcohol content (BAC) at the scene. This data makes the case much clearer on who is to be held accountable for the crash.
- Mechanic’s estimate: If your car was extensively damaged or totaled during the crash, you’d need to get in touch with a mechanic to prove the extent of damages. Remember that your entitlement for funding is not exclusive to medical coverage, but includes harm to your property as well. This factor will be essential to know what is or is not a fair settlement offer for resolving your case.
So far, it is easy to see how a DUI case is similar to other legal suits related to car accidents in general. As the victim, you can still seek legal recourse against the defendant for pain and suffering, lost wages, and reduced earning capacity. Yet, what precisely distinguishes these lawsuits from the rest?
Unique Aspects of DUI Cases
Firstly, when pursuing legal action in response to a drunk driving incident, you might consider others apart from the inebriated driver when determining liability. For instance, in some states, you may have the legal grounds to hold the restaurant, bar, or another establishment that sold the liquor to the negligent driver, responsible for the collision. This is per a statute commonly known as the “Dram Shop Law.”
According to the Dram Shop Law, a host or vendor can be held liable for the accident if the customer to whom they supplied alcohol later causes bodily harm to someone. However, pursuing legal action based on this legislation can be tricky, since this law’s interpretations and applications are strictly limited.
For example, in California, a Dram Shop state, language is included in the law to clarify that the selling of alcohol is not the proximate cause of the collision, but its consumption and the subsequent decision to operate a vehicle. If you feel that the Dram Shop Law applies to your case, it’s best to consult your lawyer.
Secondly, DUI convictions are handled quite differently than the typical legal consequences from the average auto collision. This is primarily because drunk driving incidents result in the guilty driver being convicted of both a criminal and civil crime. The two are defined as follows:
- Civil offense: The victim may seek monetary compensation from the negligent individual and a court order to engage in, or avoid, specific actions will be issued to the defendant. Jail time and fines may be given as well.
- Criminal offense: There are more severe consequences in store for the defendant, including longer jail time, extended suspension of their license, more expensive fines, and more. These cases almost always entail a trial by jury.
Further, since the DUI is considered a criminal case, you are not the sole party pressing charges against the drunk driver. Instead, either the state or federal government will be doing so, depending on the case’s details. For example, if the accident took place on federal property, the inebriated driver would be tried for a federal crime. Possible penalties for a Class B misdemeanor in these circumstances include:
- Up to 6 months in jail
- Up to $5000 in fines
- Up to 5 years of probation
State penalties may vary, as all 50 states have slightly varying laws concerning drinking and driving. Still, one can generally expect the following consequences:
- Suspension or revocation of driver’s license
- Mandatory enrollment to DUI school
- Mandatory attendance to alcohol (or other substance) abuse treatment programs
Check your local state laws to get a more accurate idea of what consequences the drunk driver may be facing after your case has been resolved.
Fortunately, one positive aspect that stems from the differences between DUI cases and other car accidents is that insurance companies are far more likely to take your claim seriously. Instead of attempting to place blame on you to avoid a payout, a clear record of the negligent driver’s BAC is enough to get your insurer on your side.
If you or someone you love has been injured or otherwise affected by an alcohol-related collision, get in touch with a drunk driving lawyer as soon as possible. These cases can be overwhelming to victims, but expert legal guidance can make the process markedly smoother and easier to handle. Contact a lawyer today to get your case underway.