According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 10,000 people who died in 2016, died due to an alcohol-impaired driver. This means that more than one in four traffic-related deaths were due to alcohol. Statistics from the CDC also show that there were more than one million arrests of a drunk driver for driving under the influence of alcohol or narcotics in 2016.
Why drunk driving is dangerous
Drunk driving is very dangerous because there simply is no way to drive defensively. There is no way to anticipate which way a drunk driver will turn, how fast he/she will drive, whether the driver will swerve into another lane, or even swerve into oncoming traffic. Many drunk drivers speed. Many drivers under the influence of alcohol run through traffic lights.
Wrongful death damages
If a drunk driver kills another driver, a passenger, a pedestrian, or a bicycle rider – the victim’s family has the right to file a wrongful death action. In this type of case, the family (typically the spouse and children – and maybe the parents of minor children and dependent blood relatives) can demand compensation for:
- Funeral and burial bills
- The value of the support and services the decedent gave before the tragic accident
- The loss of guidance and companionship the decedent gave each family member.
- If a child dies, then the cost of the emotional suffering of the parents is compensable
- Any outstanding medical bills
- The value of the financial loss the decedent would have provided including lost wages and benefits
Economic damages and pain and suffering
If a victim of a drunk driving accident survives the crash, he or she can claim the following damages:
- All necessary and reasonable medical bills. This includes hospital stays, surgeries, doctor visits, physical therapy, emotional counseling, medical devices, and the cost for medications
- All past and future loss of income
- The victim’s physical pain and emotional suffering
Survivors of a drunk driving crash often suffer traumatic brain injuries, spinal cord damage, broken bones, and other serious injuries.
If there is proof that a defendant’s actions were intentional or reckless, the victim and the victim’s family may be able to claim punitive damages. Punitive damages are a way of sending a strong message to the responsible person that their conduct is not acceptable and it must stop. A drunk driving conviction or a civil showing that a driver drove while under intoxication is evidence that the driver’s actions qualify as intentional or reckless.
How to use the evidence of drunk driving
In many cases where a driver under the influence of alcohol causes an accident, the criminal case will proceed first. There is normally a shorter timeline to try a criminal case. The standard of proof in a criminal case is higher. This is another reason personal injury lawyers usually wait to try the civil case. If a driver is found guilty of driving under the influence of alcohol, the Florida car accident lawyer can usually use the conviction in the civil case.
A conviction does not automatically prove the defendant driver is negligent. It does not directly prove that negligence is the cause of the victim’s injuries. Still, many insurance adjusters will be much more likely to settle a car accident case, if there is a criminal conviction.
Ability to settle a claim
Also, the personal injury trial lawyer will usually work with the police and the prosecutor. If need be, the lawyer will ask the police officer who made the arrest to testify about the driver’s conduct – why the police officer stopped the driver. The lawyer will also work to introduce the results of any damaging breath tests. Normally, a blood alcohol content reading of .08 more indicates a driver is under the influence of alcohol.
Insurance in drunk driving cases
A Florida car accident lawyer will seek to have all accountable insurance companies pay the damage claim. The starting point is the liability insurance carrier for the drunk driver. If it is clear intoxication is the cause of the crash, and if the injuries are serious or there is a wrongful death claim, then, often, the insurance company for the defendant drunk driver will pay the policy limits.
The car owner’s insurance
If the defendant’s insurance is not enough to pay all the damages, and it often is not enough, then the trial lawyer will seek to have the insurance carrier for the owner of the car pay the damages. Sometimes, the owner of the car is not the same person as the driver. It is normally not necessary to show that the owner knows of the intoxication. Just giving the drunk driver permission to use the car and showing that the injuries are due to the driver’s negligence should be enough to bind the insurance company for the owner.
Florida’s dram shop law
Many states give an injury victim the right to file a claim against a tavern, a social host, or anyone who serves alcohol to someone is appears under a state of intoxication – if the driver then causes an accident. Florida has a tougher standard. In Florida, victims can file a claim against a seller of liquor but not a social host. Florida requires that the victim or the victim’s family show:
- The server must willfully and unlawfully serve alcohol to a minor – someone under 21
- The server must knowingly provide alcohol to someone who is “habitually addicted” to alcohol