There’s no doubt drunk driving is a national epidemic across the entire United States with more than 16,000 fatalities each year being caused by drunk driving. This number equals about 40% of all motor vehicle fatalities across the nation. Drunk drivers are always dangerous and potentially deadly, and drunk drivers injure an additional 250,000 Americans every year.
It may seem somewhat simple to rely upon insurance companies when you get in an accident with a drunk driver, but it’s actually a lot more complicated than most people think. Although drinking and driving is a serious crime that can almost always make someone liable for damages, there are many aspects of DUI accident litigation that everyone should know about.
This page serves as an informational tool to help you navigate the complex web of DUI accident litigation by thoroughly explaining the settlement basics, comparative fault and liability, civil suits, no-fault laws, Dram Shop laws, uninsured drunk drivers, insurance company tactics, the Indiana Penal Code and Penalties.
By going through all of this information you’ll be much more prepared for any kind of situation you or your loved ones may face when they get in these unfortunate situations.
DUI Accident Settlement Basics
Although it is safe to say that insurance will cover all of your lost wages and overall financial losses in the case that a drunk driver hits you, there are many aspects of these kinds of injury settlements that everyone should know about including your state’s insurance laws, how no-fault insurance laws impact your settlement, insurance policy limits and so much more.
The most important thing you can do after getting in an accident with a drunk driver, no matter what the circumstances, is to fully assess your injuries before making any kind of settlement. The truth is, even minor accidents can create rather serious injuries that are not noticeable at first, and the at-fault driver’s insurance company will almost always try to use their tactics to persuade you into an early settlement to maintain a minimal payout. They will more than likely also try to get you to sign a release of liability, which is a form that essentially prohibits you from any further injury claims that pertain to the accident. Don’t get sucked into these insurance tactics, and always ensure you have legal representation before even speaking to the at-fault driver’s insurance claim adjuster.
The best thing to do is to keep track of your financial losses records (including lost wages, medical costs, etc.) and take the time you need for your condition to stabilize before getting involved with settlement offers.
Another important basic of DUI accident settlements is to wait until the other driver has plead guilty or been convicted of DUI. This gives you much more leverage when seeking a settlement because a judge would be much more sympathetic to any plaintiff that was injured by a drunk driver who was previously convicted.
Another settlement basic everyone must know about is the simple fact that there are limits to what insurance companies will pay someone who’s been injured in a DUI accident, and many times it maxes out at in the $50,000 range. If your damages end up exceeding your specific state’s limit, then you’ll be in the situation in which you’ll have to file a civil suit. These suits typically end in pre-trial settlements, but this is where DUI settlement litigation does begin to get more complicated.
No Fault Laws
The basics of DUI injury settlements does technically depend on which state you live in because there are around a dozen specific no fault auto insurance law states in which an individual’s own insurer is the insurance company that’s responsible for covering their client’s injury claims, as opposed to the at-fault driver’s insurance provider.
Each state has unique limits on injury claims called personal injury protection (PIP) claims, and these limits many times rely on whether or not you also have additional health insurance coverage and the specific type of coverage. Another important thing to consider, is no-fault insurance policies will more than likely only pay you around 75% of your lost wages.
It may seem rather bleak for people involved in DUI injury settlements in no-fault states, but there is light at the end of the tunnel. No-fault states also allow injured people to pursue at-fault drivers for additional claims when they’ve suffered serious injuries that end up exceeding the state’s threshold, which in many states is about $50,000.
Determining Liability and Fault
Most of the time, drunk drivers are considered liable for any injuries sustained in an accident. There are many instances in which both parties being negligent to some degree caused an accident. In these situations, the most important aspect to resolve is the proximate cause of the accident, which is essentially proving which party’s reckless negligence is most at blame for the accident occurring. It’s important to understand both parties could be considered partially at fault for the accident even if one of the parties is arrested for DUI.
If a drunk driver hits you, it’s pretty straightforward in terms of linking their negligence to the accident’s proximate cause, but a clear causation must be connected from the drunk driver’s actions to the injuries endured in the accident. The following is a useful list of the elements that are involved with negligence cases:
- Duty — This refers to the duty that all drivers have out on the road in terms of following all traffic regulations, yielding to any apparent hazards and always respecting other drivers’ safety.
- Breach of Duty — Reckless driving, driving impaired, speeding, and other dangerous actions on the road are examples of breaching duty.
- Cause in Fact — This involves focusing in on the actual causation of the accident’s injuries by delving into the question as to whether or not the injured motorist would have still suffered the same injuries if the other driver was not impaired.
- Proximate Cause — The plaintiff who was injured by a drunk driver must prove that their injuries were not outside the scope of what the drunk driver could have reasonably foreseen.
- Damages — This element deals with the plaintiff having to actually prove that their car or themselves legitimately suffered damages/injuries.
It’s easy to prove that a drunk driver breached their duty by being drunk behind the wheel. A plaintiff must also be able to prove that the driver’s intoxication was the cause in fact, and that the drunk driver’s condition was the proximate cause of your damages/injuries.
There are rare instances, like when someone runs a red light and then is hit by a drunk driver, which doesn’t constitute a claim against the drunk driver, even if they’re arrested for DUI. This is because the drunk driver couldn’t have foreseen your own negligence, and the intoxication is not the proximate cause of the injuries.
What if you’re partially at fault?
It’s still possible to have a claim against a drunk driver when you’re partially at fault, and being partially at fault for any accident refers to comparative fault. Many states reduce damages based off a percentage of the blame that is attributed to the plaintiff. Many courts are very strict on drunk driving, but they’re also becoming more cognizant of other dangerous driving tactics like distracted driving.
DUI Criminal Cases vs. Civil Damages
Accidents involving drunk drivers are always different because of the criminal elements. If you do end up needing to get compensation from a drunk driver, you’ll have to utilize a civil court claim. A civil case against a drunk driver seeks to get the financial sum that equals the monetary losses of your injuries and car damage.
Special damages refer to the reimbursement of certain expenses like lost income, medical expenses and other kinds of economic losses.
General damages refer to physical/mental pain and suffering you’ve endured as a direct effect from the accident.
Dram Shop Laws
There can potentially be more people who are liable for an accident that is caused by a drunk driver, other than the drunk driver. Depending on where you live, you may also be able to sue other people or their businesses for any injuries you sustain in a DUI accident injury.
Dram Shop laws allow injured people to bring about civil claims against a restaurant, bar or other kind of business that sold the alcohol to the drunk driver involved in the accident. This also applies to a private host who provided alcohol to an intoxicated houseguest or someone underage.
There are other instances in which someone could make a negligent entrustment claim against a company or person other than the drunk driver involved in the accident. In these situations, the claim would be made against the owner of the vehicle if they knew or should have known that they gave their keys to a drunk person and negligently let them use their vehicle.
Uninsured/Underinsured Drunk Drivers
Many times, a drunk driver involved in an accident will unfortunately not have an adequate amount of car insurance coverage, or wont’ have insurance at all. This is where Dram Shop claims can be useful, and you can also bring a claim against your own insurance company to get the compensation for your injuries. The type of insurance that would cover this situation is called Uninsured Motorist or Underinsured Motorist insurance coverage.
Make sure to check your policy out to see if you have this type of coverage!
Indiana Penal Code & Penalties
Check out more information about the letter of the law when it comes to Operating a Vehicle While Intoxicated and the penalties involved with each crime.