Civil liability is not the first thing that comes to mind after a drunk driving accident. Many people don’t even know they’re entitled to compensation on the civil side after becoming injured in an accident as severe as one where the other driver was intoxicated (and insurance companies want to keep it that way). However, civil liability is one of the most common consequences a drunk driver may face after they’ve been found to have committed a DUI, especially if injuries were sustained or property was damaged in the accident. That’s why it’s important immediately retain a Board Certified Personal Injury lawyer after injuries or worse, wrongful death, occurs due to the reckless behavior of a driver that chose to operate a car after consuming alcohol.
It’s important to understand that a DUI can happen to anyone, no matter how high they believe their tolerance to alcohol. When they let their guard down and act irresponsibly, assuming they won’t get caught, or that they can’t possibly hurt anyone after “just one drink”, life threatening accidents happen. Drinking and driving is a risk no one should ever take.
That’s why this writeup will help to provide the less talked about but more common legal actions pursued after a person becomes involved in a drunk driving accident: civil liability.
What is “drunk driving”?
Drunk driving is something that many of us unknowingly witness whenever we’re out and about; at a restaurant, a club, or a bar with friends, or even at private social gatherings that take place in someone’s home. We witness those around us drink one beer or order just one alcoholic beverage, then leave the restaurant or the party after consuming it. After even one drink, a person is no longer fit to drive themselves home, though sometimes action isn’t taken as it should be, and those who consumed that “just one drink” get behind the wheel. When it comes to drinking and driving, it’s never worth the risk. No one can be sure of their tolerance for alcohol on any given day, and friends of the person consuming alcohol must consider whether or not they consumed alcohol prior to arriving to the gathering. All of these factors establish the basis for one important step to be taken: using an alternative method to get home safely. Whether it’s Uber, Lyft, a taxi, or a private car service, there are options for those who want to remain safe after alcohol consumption.
When a friend or family member of someone consuming alcohol chooses to ignore a situation in which that person then gets behind the wheel, that friend or family member could become liable. Furthermore, the establishment in which they consumed the alcohol could become liable. The latter liability is what’s known as Dram Shop Laws, and we went in-depth on this issue in 2018’s popular Dram Shop Laws Keep the Public Safe, Alcohol Out of the Hands of Minors writeup. Dram Shop Laws may be applicable for any accident caused while a person who consumed alcohol left the establishment and operated a motor vehicle thereafter. If that driver causes injury or death to another driver, pedestrian, or passengers in their own car, the laws pertaining to the liability they face can be severe (and costly).
What happens in a DUI with wrongful death?
When someone becomes injured or dies as a result of an irresponsible person who chooses to drive after drinking alcohol, surviving family members have the right to seek damages either through an Alternative Dispute Resolution method such as mediation, or in some cases trial when necessary. As we stress on The Law Resource often, no amount of money can replace the life of a lost loved one. But as with any wrongful death, compensation to the fullest extent of the law can provide assistance in easing the financial burden of final expenses, medical bills, and lost wages (the latter of which would be sought using Pecuniary Damages). This is why retaining legal counsel to assist with filing a civil liability action in order to obtain damages is extremely important.
What are some consequences of drunk driving?
Legal issues that surround DUI-related accidents and wrongful deaths can range from large fines and suspended licenses to serious prison time. Drunk driving accidents often cause more harm to the passengers in the vehicle and other motorists on the road than they do to the driver.
As this article is touching on drunk driving in respect to the area of Personal Injury Law (civil law), we will not provide an in-depth explanation of the criminal aspect of drunk driving; suffice it to say those convicted of DUI offenses face severe penalties and must live with the pain and suffering they caused a victim and their family on the moral side. The circumstances surrounding the drunk driving-related accident are what determine whether or not criminal charges will be filed (especially if the driver is found to have been intoxicated above the legal blood alcohol limit–”BAC”). Blood-Alcohol testing can be enforced by police officers at the scene of the accident when they have reasonable suspicion that the driver is intoxicated or is acting in a manner unsafe for operating a car.
While this information does not precisely concern the specialty of Personal Injury Law, it’s important to understand how these puzzle pieces fit together to offer justice to a family who sustained a wrongful death as a result of a drunk driving accident. The arrest of a driver who caused the wrongful death of a passenger in their car, a pedestrian, or another driver be indispensable when a family retains a Personal Injury lawyer on the civil side, in order to pursue wrongful death litigation.
What is Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) testing?
As mentioned above, in certain states law enforcement may require a motorist to submit to a BAC–or a Blood Alcohol Concentration test. Based on the results of the BAC test, “probable cause” may be used. An officer cannot arrest a driver without reasonable suspicion to first administer a BAC test. After this, when the results conclude that the driver was intoxicated, then probable cause is then given to the officer to make an arrest. This would be in the best interest of everyone involved, as an intoxicated driver poses a risk to themselves and everyone else on the road. Upon arrest, they can then potentially be charged with a DUI.
The state of Florida does not have specific BAC laws, therefore it is a state that leaves the testing requirements up to law enforcement and the state officials who are overseeing the case. However, as previously explained, if an officer on the scene of the accident has reasonable suspicion that a motorist is impaired and under the influence of alcohol, they may use their best discretion and require the driver to submit to a BAC.
This varies greatly by state. In the state of Florida, where The Shaked Law Firm is based, because there are no laws specific to Blood Alcohol testing it remains at law enforcement’s discretion to do their due diligence in determining whether or not to test the impaired driver on the scene or an accident, or when pulling them over under the suspicion that their impaired driving is due to intoxication.
There are two types of Blood Alcohol Concentration testing that can be issued by law enforcement:
- Mandatory BAC: some states require any motorist or passenger who dies as a result of a drunk driving-related accident to have a BAC. According to government websites providing this information, only half the states in the country have this requirement.
- Discretionary BAC: Many states have what’s known as “discretionary” Blood Alcohol Concentration testing. This leaves the testing decision up to the medical examiner or other state official overseeing the case.
A drunk driving civil liability checklist
Finally, below is a quick checklist of what a Personal Injury lawyer may need when filing civil litigation. A lawyer may pursue litigation in order to obtain damages for a drunk driving accident with catastrophic bodily injuries, or in the worst cases, a wrongful death.
How is fault proven in a drunk driving accident?
- Was the motorist shown to be impaired?
- Did their BAC indicate they were under the influence (and above the legal limit)?
- What was the intoxication level of the defendant?
- Did they act in a way that can be considered unreasonable or negligent, thusly putting the public at risk?
What does an experienced lawyer need for drunk driving accident Discovery?
- Police reports
- Witness statements
- BAC testing results
- An expert opinion’s testimony
The lawyer will obtain all necessary documentation using the proper legal procedure known as “Discovery”. Remember: honesty and credibility from the beginning can be what makes a successful case, while lying, being dishonest, or exaggerating can seriously harm a case.