Hit by a Drunk Driver? Explore Your Legal Options
The facts about drunk driving in America are alarming. According to statistics compiled by MADD, or Mothers Against Drunk Driving, between 50 and 75 percent of drivers convicted of DUIs continue to drive even after their licenses are suspended. Around 27 Americans die every day in DUI-related accidents, and every 2 minutes, yet another driver is injured by someone who drives drunk.
If you’ve unexpectedly become one of the tens of thousands of Americans injured by drunk drivers, you deserve to get financial compensation so you can heal from your injuries without worrying about medical bills. Below, we’ll tell you how you can proceed after a DUI accident to ensure you receive the damages you may be entitled to.
Civil and Criminal Litigation
Unlike many other personal injury suits, drunk driving cases can result in both civil and criminal suits. A civil suit ensures that you, the victim, receive the financial compensation you may deserve after a negligent driver injures you. In contrast, a criminal suit-which the state brings against the drunk driver ensures that the general public isn’t endangered by the same drunk driver in the future.
It’s always shocking to be hit by a driver out of the blue, but being hit by a drunk driver can have particularly devastating tragic consequences. Drunk drivers are mentally or physically impaired, so unlike other drivers who might make a mistake and try to correct it before they hit you, drunk drivers don’t notice or have the ability to correct an error before a crash.
Fortunately, establishing a drunk driver’s liability in an accident is relatively simple if the drunk driver was arrested or cited at the time of the accident.
If the court finds the driver liable, you could receive general damages, which could compensate you for mental and physical suffering; special damages, which could compensate you for financial losses; and punitive or exemplary damages, which are meant to discipline the defendant for breaking the law. The court could also award you punitive damages to deter the defendant from committing future crimes.
Regardless of whether or not the state brings a criminal suit, you’ll have to file a civil lawsuit to pay your medical bills, recover lost wages, and receive enough money to deal with any future surgeries or physical therapy. Even punitive damages can only be awarded in a civil lawsuit, not a criminal one.
In some states, you can also bring a civil suit against someone who allowed the driver to drive drunk. For instance, under a dram shop law, you can file against the bar, pub, or restaurant that let the driver leave while intoxicated. If your state has a social host law, you can file against an individual or host who continued to serve alcohol to someone who was clearly drunk, especially to a minor.
Since drunk drivers are breaking the law, not merely being negligent drivers who are subject to human error, they’re often prosecuted by the district attorney. As the victim, you may need to testify for the prosecution during the criminal case. Again, remember that you can only receive compensation through a civil suit.
As with any personal injury claim, the other driver’s insurance company will get in touch with you and try to work out a settlement. If you weren’t seriously injured in the crash for instance if you talked to a medical professional and established that you only suffer from mild injuries you may consider accepting a settlement.
Bear in mind that any insurance company’s goal is to save as much money as possible, so they’ll likely lowball you at first. Which is why you shouldn’t sign anything with the insurance company until you’ve talked to a lawyer. If you’ve settled with the company, you won’t be able to pursue civil litigation in the future.
It’s also crucial to confer with a medical professional before accepting a settlement. Even if you think you only have minor neck and back pain, you could have underlying injuries that will take a while to manifest. Visit the doctor to make sure that your injuries really are as mild as you think they are.
You might also want to pursue civil litigation instead of accepting a settlement to ensure the driver is punished for breaking the law. Some proponents of punitive damages argue that they encourage victims like you to do your part to hold the drunk driver accountable.
Since many drunk drivers are repeat offenders, you should seriously consider bringing a suit against him or her to deter the driver from committing the same crime.
Contact a Lawyer
Whether you’re pursuing a settlement or filing a civil lawsuit, get in touch with a personal injury lawyer as soon as possible. In a drunk driving suit, you may deserve compensation the other driver was clearly at fault and clearly broke the law. Your injuries are not your fault, and you shouldn’t have to pay for recovery out of your own pocket.
For over 34 years Hardee & Hardee has aggressively prosecuted drunk driving cases and other cases involving car accidents. We’ve cooperated and worked with the district attorney’s office to ensure justice for the families we’ve represented and to get those drunk drivers off the road for the protection and safety of others.