What Happens if A Drunk Driver Hit Me?

drunk driving

There is no question that drunk driving is both foolhardy and dangerous. Inebriated motorists risk not only their own lives but also the lives of everyone else on the road.

Drunk driving ranks among the leading causes of fatal motor vehicle accidents in the United States. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that driving under the influence of alcohol causes a fatality every 50 minutes. Back in 2016, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimated that drunk driving crashes claimed 29 lives per day.

When the general public ponders the legal consequences of drunk driving, criminal sanctions probably come to mind. What many people may not consider is that accident victims can also sue the drunk drivers responsible for the collisions in which they were hurt.

Can I sue in any state?

The ability to sue a drunk driver in a personal injury case is not necessarily universal. This is because some states have so-called no-fault laws. These are:

  • Florida
  • Michigan
  • New Jersey
  • New York
  • Pennsylvania
  • Hawaii
  • Kansas
  • Kentucky
  • Massachusetts
  • Minnesota
  • North Dakota
  • Utah

For various reasons, it is more difficult to file a lawsuit against a drunk driver in these states than in others. This is mostly because victims are precluded from suing for serious injuries and non-economic losses unless the case meets certain requirements. These provisos, or thresholds, are usually related to the extent of the injury.

Conversely, residents of any of the remaining 38 states can sue the drunk driver just as they would if they were hurt in any other motor vehicle accident. In other words, a plaintiff must prove the drunk driver was at fault – and that is sometimes easier said than done. Just because the other driver was under the influence when the accident occurred does not necessarily mean he or she caused the crash. Although it usually benefits the plaintiff if the defendant was convicted of DUI or DWI, even that does not guarantee a successful outcome in a civil case.

If you were in a crash involving an impaired driver, there are steps you can take to aid your recovery or improve the likelihood of success of your case.  First, make sure that police are notified, and that the driver does not leave the scene. If the impaired driver leaves the scene before police arrive, then in often becomes difficult to prove exactly when that person became impaired – they may attempt to argue that they become intoxicated after the crash.  It is therefore import that a field sobriety test is issued or that a ticket or citation is issued.

Available compensation

The type of compensation you may stand to receive depends on the specific circumstances of your case.  It is important to remember that no amount is guaranteed.

In general, plaintiffs may seek compensation for financial losses. These typically include but are not limited to medical expenses, lost wages due to the inability to work, and so on. In some situations, plaintiffs may also seek compensation for non-financial losses, such as pain and suffering.

If warranted, plaintiffs may request punitive damages to punish the drunk driver for his or her conduct, along with compensation for the losses detailed above.

Deciding to sue or accept a settlement offer

The possibility that punitive damages could be awarded at trial tends to make insurance companies nervous. Consequently, they sometimes make generous settlement offers to avoid going to court. On the other hand, punitive damages may not be considered until after suit is filed.  Additionally, some insurers may refuse to cover damages or injuries if their insured driver was impaired.  Absent law to the contrary, you may have to file suit in order to force the insurer to make an offer or change its decision regarding coverage. 

As experienced personal injury attorneys, we at Van Law Firm are equipped to help you make this crucial decision. We are also equipped to fight for you even if the defendant’s coverage is voided because of the DUI/DWI conviction. The first step is up to you. Contact us online at vanlawfirm.wpengine.com or give us a call at (702)529-1011 to arrange a free consultation to learn how we can help you get the compensation you deserve.