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In 2011, almost 10,000 people were killed in the United States as a result of drunk driving, and more than 300,000 people were injured. In some ways, drunk driving accidents carry the same risks and headaches as other auto accidents – injuries, property damage, insurance adjusters, and uninsured drivers, just to name a few. However, there are A few ways in which drunk driving accidents are distinct from other accidents. If you are injured in a drunk driving accident, you need to know how drunk driving accidents are different.
Laws vary from state to state. As a personal injury attorney in Georgia, I am most familiar with the law here, but if you are in an accident in another state, you should talk to a personal injury lawyer who practices there.
Negligence Per Se
Like all states, Georgia prohibits drivers from operating a motor vehicle with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08 percent or higher. There are also separate, lower BAC limits for drivers under the age of 21 and commercial drivers. Normally, in personal injury cases, including auto accidents, the most important question is whether the defendant (the person who caused the injury) acted with reasonable care. If not, the defendant was negligent and is responsible for any injury he or she caused.
In Georgia, and many other states, if you can prove that a driver violated state law, such as by driving with a BAC of .08 or more, and the violation caused or added to the injury, then the other driver is considered negligent per se. The plaintiff (the injured person) does not have show anything else to establish that the driver was negligent and is responsible for the injuries. The best way to prove negligence per se in a drunk driving case is with the results of the driver’s breathalyzer or blood test, or the driver’s conviction for criminal charges. A personal injury attorney can help you find these records.
Other People’s Negligence
But, just because the driver was drunk does not relieve other parties of responsibility for their own negligence. Any person who is injured by a drunk driver, including the survivors of a person killed by a drunk driver, can bring a lawsuit against the driver and anyone else that might have contributed to the accident. For example, in a recent case in Washington state, the court allowed a drunk driver and her passenger to sue the county after the driver crashed into a utility pole that was placed too close to the road. Depending on the circumstances, there may be multiple defendants who could possibly be financially responsible for your injuries.
Dram Shop Laws
Dram shop laws impose responsibility for the dangerous acts of intoxicated people on the people (waiters or party hosts) or places (bars, restaurants, and package stores) that illegally sell or serve alcohol. So, the person who served or sold the driver alcohol may also be responsible for the accident. In Georgia, dram shop liability only exists where:
· the “shop" sold or served alcohol improperly to a minor, or to a person who was obviously intoxicated, and
· knew that the person was going to drive.
Some states, including Georgia, extend dram shop liability to private hosts. So, a couple who hosts a party at their home to watch a football game and continue to serve a young woman from the keg, even though she is so drunk that she is bleary-eyed and slurring, knowing that she has to drive herself home, could be held partially responsible should the woman get into an accident and hurt someone.
However, dram shop liability can be difficult to establish. Proving obvious intoxication can be challenging and usually requires eyewitness statements. You may need the assistance of an attorney to locate and interview witnesses while their memories are fresh.
You Could be Partly at Fault
What if you willingly get into a car driven by someone who you know is intoxicated, and the driver gets into an accident and you are injured, can still file suit against the driver? You can still file suit, although you may be able to recover less in damages. This is called comparative fault. In Georgia, the victim can only recover if he or she is less than 50% responsible for the accident. If the victim of a drunk driving accident is partially responsible for their injuries, then the court determined the percentage of the person’s own fault. If the plaintiff is more than 50% responsible, then any recovery is prohibited. If the plaintiff is 49% (or less) responsible, then the damages are reduced proportionally. So, if the victim would be entitled to $1,000,000 in damages, but is 25% responsible for getting hurt, then the victim can only recover $750,000.
Drunk Driving Cases May be Worth More
Everyone – including juries – hates drunk drivers who injure others. If there are two car accidents that result in the same injuries, but in one, the driver at fault was drunk and in the other, the driver was not drunk, the victim in the drunk driving case will probably be better compensated. Additionally, people injured in drunk driving cases may be awarded punitive damages. Punitive damages are awarded to punish people who act particularly egregiously. Driving under the influence may fit into this category. While punitive damages in Georgia are normally capped at $250,000, there are no caps in DUI cases.
Insurance Companies Want to Settle
Insurance companies are often eager to settle drunk driving cases. As a general rule, insurance companies for impaired drivers want to settle cases because they do not want to face a jury and possible large verdict. So, people injured by drunk drivers are able to negotiate larger settlements.
You Need to Protect Yourself
Just because insurance companies are eager to settle does not mean you should not talk to a lawyer. You can bet that the insurance company has an army of lawyers and you need to level the playing field. Whenever you are injured in an auto accident, especially if your injuries are the result of a drunk driver, you should talk to a personal injury lawyer who can explain the law in your state and help protect your rights so that you can obtain the best possible outcome in your case. Any good personal injury lawyer will meet with your for free to discuss your case.
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