Suppose you are injured in an automobile accident involving a drunk driver who received a DUI ticket. In that case, the ticketed driver will be facing the potential for both a criminal and civil case. Criminal charges against drunk drivers can result in penalties of jail time and restitution. In addition, a civil lawsuit can be filed against the driver by the victim. Anyone who has been injured by a drunk driver or who has a loved one who was injured in this manner may want to consider filing a civil lawsuit to receive compensation for the resulting damages.
Drunk Driving Accident: Criminal Proceedings vs. Civil Lawsuit
In the aftermath of a DUI vehicle crash, authorities can bring a criminal case against the perpetrator. This action is designed to serve as a deterrent and to help protect individuals from potential harm from the driver in the future. Additionally, the penalties issued from the criminal suit are to punish the driver for negligently behaving in such a reckless manner. Whether an accident or injury occurred, an intoxicated driver can still face criminal charges and prosecution.
Civil cases against drunk drivers are different from criminal cases, partly because it is not law enforcement bringing suit. Instead, the victim or next of kin files a personal injury lawsuit to recover damages. The burdensome financial hardships of lost wages, expensive medical treatment, and damaged property may only be recuperated through a civil lawsuit. In many cases, victims are also afforded the opportunity to recoup damages for non-economic trauma like pain and suffering.
No-Fault Laws and Civil Lawsuits
Accident victims will need to know whether they live in a no-fault state because the no-fault laws in place within these states directly affect a victim’s ability to bring a civil case against a drunk driver. In no-fault states, a threshold exists to prevent lawsuits from being filed that stem from vehicle accidents unless the degree of injury reaches a particular statutory severity or if the victim’s damages are more than a specific dollar amount mandated by statute.
Constant debate exists in no-fault states about the effects of these statutes on drunk driving and the civil lawsuits against such dangerous behavior. In “pure negligence” states, drunk drivers are automatically subjected to civil liability. Even if a drunk driver injured someone, no-fault laws still require a certain threshold to be met before a lawsuit can be successfully filed. Of course, each state has its variations and exceptions to the rule.
Georgia is not a no-fault state, meaning that before a car insurance company pays for your property damage, medical bills, or other pain and suffering, victims need to show which driver was to blame for the crash. In drunk driving cases, where the other driver was clearly at fault, victims can seek the total amount of damages from the drunk driver’s insurance company.
Negligence Laws and Civil Lawsuits
Residents of pure negligence states are free to bring a lawsuit against a drunk driver to seek compensation for injuries received. The victim is merely required to prove fault on the driver’s part. While it may appear that this type of civil suit should easily be won, insurance companies and their defense attorneys have an unlimited amount of money to throw at defending such cases. Among the complicated and complex issues that can be introduced is contributory and comparative negligence.
Georgia is one of the few states that follows a modified comparative negligence rule. According to Georgia negligence law (O.C.G.A. 51-12-33), a plaintiff can recover damages if they were responsible for less than half of their accident. If a plaintiff is more than 50% at fault for their injury or accident, they will be ineligible to receive compensation. However, this is usually not the case with drunk driving accidents as the drunk driver is typically at a high percentage of fault, if not entirely responsible.
Liability in a Drunk Driving Accident
Georgia law states that intoxicated drivers who cause an accident are negligent and are liable in a civil court proceeding. The intoxication can be from alcohol or other substances like drugs. In the legal sense, negligence refers to a driver’s behavior that is contrary to the behavior that other drivers would exhibit in a similar circumstance.
Without question, it is negligent to operate a vehicle while in an impaired condition. Therefore, a drunk driver who causes an accident should be considered negligent and responsible for the ensuing damage and injury. This negligence is the basis for filing a civil lawsuit to recover compensation for losses due to the accident.
While it is understandable that the drunk driver will be named a defendant in the lawsuit, other individuals or entities could also be named. A third party may have provided alcohol to the individual who was already obviously drunk. According to a law known as the Dram Shop Rule (GA Code § 51-1-40), nightclubs and bars can be included as a defendant if the establishment provided more alcohol to an already-inebriated person. Likewise, the host of a party who does not use care to stop an obviously drunk individual from drinking more alcohol can potentially be held liable as well.
Do You Need a Drunk Driving Accident Lawyer?
An attorney with a proven track record knows how to successfully get evidence such as toxicology or alcohol test results from the at-fault driver’s encounter with law enforcement. In addition, the negligent individual’s driving records and other enlightening information can be retrieved.
Through diligence, an experienced drunk driving accident lawyer may successfully pursue financial recourse from other entities besides the drunk driver’s auto insurance company. For example:
- There may be additional coverage through another insurance policy, such as an employer’s company insurance policy or a parent’s insurance policy.
- There might be financial compensation available through the drunk driver’s estate if he or she was killed in the collision.
- If alcohol was provided to the intoxicated individual at a nightclub or bar, financial compensation could be pursued via the Dram Shop Rule.
Without knowing how to go after all available means of financial recovery effectively, an injury victim may feel that life can only go steadily downhill after a devastating accident. Mounting medical bills, loss of wages, and the inability to meet everyday household expenses can create an environment of despair. However, a skilled drunk driving accident lawyer can help turn a devastating ordeal into an avenue of deserved compensation for a victim.
To learn about filing a drunk driving accident lawsuit, contact The Eichholz Law Firm today. We provide free case evaluations for all injured victims.