Drunk Driving Accidents: Who’s To Blame? And How Do You Get The Most Money?
As an Orlando drunk driving accident attorney, I am outraged when I hear from clients who were involved in an auto accident where alcohol or drugs were either a suspected or known cause. Often these cases involve the most serious impacts, and many head-on or near head-on collisions. Sometimes the at-fault driver is tested and found over the legal limit at the scene, other times my client just strongly suspected that the driver was either drunk, or drugged, or both. You may have smelled alcohol, observed strange behavior or statements, or know for certain that the police tested and arrested the driver for driving over the legal limit of .08.
What Is The Difference Between Criminal DUI And Civil Drunk Driving Accident Liability?
Many people do not understand that our legal system basically has two tracks: criminal and civil. Criminal and civil cases are totally different, with different potential outcomes. On the criminal side, a lawyer who works for the state called a prosecutor, often attempts to punish the drunk driver. This is where they try to put the driver in jail or prison. Although the prosecutor may also seek some financial compensation for the victim, recovering money is not the prosecutor’s primary goal.
Therefore, to get the most money from a drunk driving accident, victims often need a civil / personal injury lawyer. This would be totally separate from whatever the prosecutor is doing in the criminal case.
Usually victims are very angry about drunk driving accidents, and their most important goal is to make sure the drunk driver is criminally punished. So sometimes I have to explain that my job is recovering money, while the state prosecutor’s job is pursuing criminal punishment.
One way or another, victims want and deserve to have the maximum civil and criminal penalties brought against the drunk driver.
How Common Are Drunk Driving Accidents?
Most people have no idea that their chances of being involved in a drunk driving accident are very high. In fact, Mothers Against Drunk Driving reports that 2 out of 3 people will be involved in a drunk driving accident during their lifetime. That’s staggering, and scary, considering how dangerous these accidents often are. The image of drunk drivers driving in the wrong lane is bold in my mind, from hearing so many clients tell me the heartbreaking and terrifying stories of how their accidents took place.
To bring this closer to home, in 2013, alcohol was suspected as a cause of many serious Florida accidents. In the entire state, there were 17,107 alcohol suspected car crashes (including 789 fatalities), 4,403 drug suspected car crashes (including 538 fatalities), 5,734 confirmed alcohol crashes (including 436 fatalities), and 487 confirmed drug crashes (including 207 fatalities). These are some nearby county statistics for car crashes involving alcohol:
- Orange County had 919;
- Lake County had 245;
- Osceola County had 170; and
- Seminole County had 286.
These numbers are outrageous, especially because alcohol related accidents are totally preventable. The at-fault driver made a choice to get behind the wheel.
Why Are Drunk Driving Accidents Too Often Fatal Or Very Severe?
Drinking alcohol, or taking drugs, impairs every bodily function required for good driving. This includes judgment, concentration, comprehension, coordination, vision, hearing, and reaction time. Of course, the higher the blood concentration of alcohol or drugs, the more these critical functions are impaired. Tragically drunk drivers may drive straight into oncoming headlights, vehicles, or other obstacles, far too often resulting in deadly high impact collisions.
Is The Drunk Driver Automatically Responsible For Any Accident?
Actually a drunk driver is not always responsible for an accident. In fact, if another driver clearly caused the accident, then the drunk driver himself could recover a lot of money for any serious injuries. For example, if the drunk driver was hit from the rear, then he may be able to get money from the other driver. Florida requires juries to decide percentages of fault for anyone involved in an auto accident. So, if a completely sober person rear-ended a drunk driver, there would be a legal battle about percentages of responsibility. However, if a driver had more than .08 concentration of alcohol or drugs, and any jury found him greater than 50% responsible for any accident, he couldn’t recover anything for his damages.
In my experience, drunk drivers usually have most, or all, of the blame for accidents. However, the sober driver still might share some of the blame, if he wasn’t careful enough when trying to avoid the drunk driver. Just like all auto accidents, at-fault drivers are responsible for past and future medical bills, lost wages, and victim pain and suffering.
Drunk Drivers Might Also Have To Pay Punitive Damages
In addition to typical auto accident damages, drunk driving accident attorneys often try to get more money, over and above normal damages. There is money available in some cases called “punitive damages.” These damages are designed to financially punish the drunk driver. These damages are usually NOT available in other auto accident cases. Also, the laws about punitive damages are more relaxed in many drunk driving accident cases. The serious legal threat of punitive damages can be a very powerful incentive for insurance companies, and drunk driving defendants, to favorably settle cases with accident victims.
Do Bars, Restaurants Or Any Other Parties Have Any Responsibility To Drunk Driving Accident Victims?
In Florida, our laws against bars and restaurants who serve alcohol to potential drivers aren’t nearly strong enough. So those serving alcohol usually do not have to pay for drunk driving accidents. However, if they either served someone under 21 years old, or a known alcoholic, then they can be held responsible. This might apply to bars, restaurants, membership organizations, or even parents who host parties where teens drink, then drive. Additionally, if the person under the influence was driving someone else’s vehicle, then the owner of the vehicle may be held responsible.
After A Drunk Driving Accident, Do Victims Need Lawyers To Get Insurance Money?
Sometimes insurance companies will offer to pay victims without lawyers. The question is whether the amount they offer is fair. They want to pay accident victims the least amount possible. For example, an insurance company might offer “policy limits,” but fail to mention that there are other ways to get more money. Plus, they often try to get victims to make statements, suggesting that their insured didn’t cause the accident, or that the injuries aren’t that serious. You would be VERY surprised about the innocent statements that can destroy your case value.
So I strongly discourage representing yourself when dealing with your own, or another person’s, insurance company for a long list of reasons.
Who Might Have To Pay You Money After A Drunk Driving Accident?
If you were injured during a drunk driving accident, you could be entitled to get paid from several different insurance companies. Of course you might recover from the drunk driver’s insurance, or income and assets. You might also get money from your own insurance company, if you had uninsured motorist coverage. This applies to anyone injured in the accident, including passengers in the same vehicle as the drunk driver. Also, you might be able to recover something from the insurance policies held by the SOBER drivers in the accident. For example, if you were a passenger in a vehicle that was hit by a drunk driver, your sober driver might have a small percentage of the blame, for not avoiding the accident. That could mean a lot of extra money, particularly for catastrophic or fatal accidents. You might also get money from whomever served the alcohol, depending on the facts.
How Much Money Can You Recover After A Drunk Driving Accident?
The amount you can recover from a drunk driving accident settlement or verdict depends on many complex factors, including:
- the severity of any injuries
- how long after the accident you waited for treatment
- your diagnosis
- duration and seriousness of treatment
- permanency and severity of injuries
- any pre-existing conditions you had
- severity of vehicle damage
- whether rules of the road were violated, and who violated them
- whether you shared any blame for the accident
- weather conditions
- the type and language of any insurance policies
- the state where any policies were issued
- who purchased the insurance policies
- who owned any vehicles involved in the accident
- in fatal accident cases, your relationship with your lost loved one
- how exactly the accident happened, especially whether the drunk driver was clearly at fault
- whether there were any witnesses, and what they viewed or heard
- whether there was evidence that the driver was drunk, or drugged
- whether the driver was arrested and prosecuted for drunk or drugged driving
- whether the drunk driver was an alcoholic
- whether anyone serving him liquor before the accident had any reason to know that he was an alcoholic,
- whether the drunk driver was younger than 21
- and many other factors.
Very generally speaking, recovery might range from nothing, for cases where the injuries were not permanent, or the defendant had no assets or insurance, to hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars, for fatal or catastrophic injuries, with enough insurance coverage or assets. In between zero and the big numbers, settlements and verdicts vary tremendously. Assuming blame for the accident is clear, generally your degree of injury determines the amount of your loss. The good news is that insurance companies often cave to pressure from auto accident lawyers a lot easier, and with higher offers, when drunk driving caused the accident.
Because of the potential complexity involved in determining the fair amount of any settlement, not speaking with an Orlando drunk driving accident attorney before any insurance companies is usually a BIG mistake.
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