Being in an automobile accident can be absolutely devastating and life-changing enough, but when you’ve been hit by a drunk driver, your shock can turn to anger. When someone drives irresponsibly and purposely unsafely, then it can feel like a personal affront, especially if you’ve been badly injured in what would - seemingly - have been a completely avoidable occurrence. In Mississippi alone, there were 2,560 people killed in car accidents involving drunk drivers between 2003 and 2012, according to the CDC. What do you do when you’ve been hit by a drunk driver, and can you sue them for damages?
Here at Coxwell & Associates, PLLC. we want to offer professional advice and answer the question, “I was hit by a drunk driver can I sue them?”
Can I Sue a Drunk Driver for my Accident?
In an at-fault state like Mississippi the short answers is yes, you can. You’ll need to file a civil case against the driver. At the same time, the state might be filing a criminal case against the driver, but in a criminal case, you will not get any compensation. More often than not, though, the drunk driver’s insurance company will try and get you to settle.
For no-fault states, the issue is complex, and your own Personal Injury Protection (PIP) insurance is your best bet to cover the costs of any medical expenses. However, even in no-fault states, there are cases where an injured party is allowed to pursue a liability claim or personal injury lawsuit against the at-fault driver. For severe accidents, where a party involved has sustained critical injuries - that meet the definition of “serious injuries” as defined by your individual state - or your medical bills are high enough, the no-fault system does have some flexibility and will allow you to sue.
Why is my insurance trying to get me to settle?
Insurance companies want to settle as quickly, as painlessly, and as cheaply (for them) as possible. After a car accident, the drunk driver’s insurance company will most likely contact you and offer you a settlement figure.
It’s up to you, but it’s advisable not to settle because the insurance company will try to avoid being responsible for any future medical expenses, and if you’re unsure about the extent of your injuries, it’s a good idea to take the case as slowly as necessary to see the full repercussions. Some injuries can take time to appear or aren’t immediately apparent.
If you feel you’re being unfairly pressured, it’s best to seek legal advice about your case. However, whether you seek legal advice or not, do not settle immediately and do not sign anything. If you settle quickly, you’d be asked to sign a release of liability form, which is essentially signing your rights away to claim for further injuries pertaining to the accident no matter the severity - which means you may be left covering your medical expenses and car-related expenses with no course of action to take (not to mention the emotional damage, loss of earnings, and so forth).
What evidence do I need to keep?
Keep any records of your financial losses such as medical costs, lost earnings, cost of car repairs, documentation to do with injuries, police reports regarding the accident, and any other photo and video evidence.
If the driver was convicted of a DUI, how much can I get?
If you seek a settlement after the drunk driver has been convicted of driving under the influence (or pleaded guilty of a DUI) in criminal proceedings, then you’ll have more leverage to claim for financial losses. The insurance company will shy away from going to court over a settlement since they know that judges are most often sympathetic to plaintiffs who are injured by a convicted drunk driver; however there are limits to how much any insurance company will pay. The limit is usually around the $50,000 mark - which is usually a pre-trial settlement figure - but if there are multiple claimants, each person will get a lower settlement. When a conviction happens, most insurance companies bend over backwards to avoid lawsuits because if the case goes to trial, the award amount is decided by the judge and not the insurance company and can be much greater than the $50,000 mark - so a high-end settlement is best case scenario for them if it means they can avoid the courtroom.
Civils Suits for Drunk Driving Injuries Against the Driver
It’s important to know that if you sue a drunk driver, you’ll file a civil suit with the help of your attorney. Criminal proceedings are meant to protect the public from future harm, aimed to deter drunk driving, and to punish the drunk driver him or herself for acting recklessly.
Civil cases for drunk driving are filed as personal injury lawsuits by the victim (the plaintiff) to recover any damages caused by the accident. Civil suits are often the only recourse to recover as many costs as possible from medical treatment to property damage to lost wages and so forth. In order to file a civil suit, you’ll have to know the laws of your jurisdiction. Some jurisdictions will allow you to seek a settlement for emotional damages such as pain or suffering. Speak to your attorney about your case to understand which damages you can claim and which you cannot.
When you file a case you’ll file the claim for compensation under “damages.” You can seek “special damages” to reimburse out of pocket expenses (medical, lost income, other economic loss), and/or “general damages” to compensate physical and mental suffering and other more subjective effects. If you file both types of damages, they’re known as “compensatory” damages and you may also be entitled to “punitive” damages which often punish the driver for reckless actions.
Criminal Proceedings for Drunk Driving Against the Driver
Car accidents caused by drunk driving are different than other accidents because in drunk-driving cases, one party is breaking the law. No matter if anyone is injured or not, those who are caught drunk driving will often face criminal charges filed by the state’s district attorney in an effort to punish and deter drunk driving cases as well as protect the public from future incidents - as mentioned before.
As an individual, you will not file a criminal proceeding nor will you be able to get any compensation for injuries from the criminal trial. Any compensation received - in the form of a fine ordered in court for the driver to pay - will go to the state and not to any injured parties.
Suing the Insurance Company
To cover medical bills and other costs, you may be able to recover damages from your insurance provider, but, if you cannot, you may wish to file a lawsuit against the driver’s insurance company. Lawsuits filed against insurance companies are also civil cases, not criminal. If there are other responsible parties - such as the bar that served the driver alcohol and didn’t cut the driver off - then you may be able to file against the business’s insurance company. If you need to sue for a large amount of compensation, you’ll need to contact a personal injury attorney with a proven record of helping DUI victims.
Suing an Uninsured or Underinsured At-Fault Driver
If a driver has no insurance, you can file a lawsuit against the driver him- or herself; however, if the driver faces criminal charges, the jail time and fine from the criminal proceedings may wipe out their savings (if they’re lucky enough to have any), curtailing their ability to pay any damages due to you, justified or not.
Sometimes the drunk driver may have insurance, but it’s not enough to cover damages. In these cases a “Dram Shop” claim can be important (see section below). With insufficient insurance, you may be able to make some claims against your own insurance company for compensation if you have uninsured or underinsured motorist coverage in your policy. If you have this policy, it’s your right to claim for compensation against your own insurance.
In the event of uninsured or underinsured drivers, you don’t want to walk away with nothing and chalk it up to bad luck, so it’s best - in these complicated situations - to seek the advice of a licensed attorney in your state.
Suing Using Speciality Laws
There are a number of laws such as the “Dram Shop” law, and the “Social Host” liability law that may help you recover damages. The drunk driver many not be the only person found responsible for causing the accident. Depending on your state’s laws, you may be able to sue other persons or businesses for contributing to the car accident; if you’re a resident of Mississippi, Mississippi does allow for this type of case. “Dram Shop” laws allow an injured party to bring a civil case against a bar, restaurant, business, or even a private host who sold or served alcohol to a drunk driver prior to an accident.
Another type of case called “negligent entrustment” case is filed against the person or company who, for example, gives his/her keys to a driver who was drunk, knowing they may cause an accident. The person who handed the keys over (the vehicle owner) would be responsible for damages.
If you were working when you got into an accident, you may be able to make a workers compensation claim. However, a workers comp claim is not the same as a civil claim against a drunk driver and would be filed through workers compensation court or an industrial court in your state.
Wrongful Death and Drunk Driving
If your loved one was killed by a drunk driver, you may file a civil suit for wrongful death on behalf of your family member’s estate. You may also appoint a personal representative to handle the case instead of you in the event it’s too painful or too stressful for you. Wrongful death suits are often initiated so those behind have enough financial stability after the accident.
Wrongful death suits are similar to the standard personal injury negligence lawsuit in which economic and non-financial damages are available with some states also allowing punitive damages (arbitrary amounts to punish the drunk driver). It’s best to contact a trusted attorney when filing a wrongful death lawsuit to maximize your compensation for those left behind.
How much compensation can I get for a drunk driving accident?
There is generally no set figure for compensation as each case that goes to court is evaluated on financial losses and economical damages.
You may receive a settlement for medical costs, time away from work, permanent loss of income, wrongful death, pain and suffering, long-term disability, hospital bills, physical therapy, and/or brain damage.
Your personal injury attorney can best asses which claims have the strongest evidence and file any claims for you, ensuring you get the maximum amount of fair compensation owed to you.
Hit by a drunk driver? Contact Coxwell & Associates, PLLC. for a free case consultation.
We have over 36 years of experience dealing with personal injury cases involving drunk drivers, and we can advise you on how to bring about a civil case against the drunk driver who caused your injuries, getting you the compensation you deserve. There’s usually a 3 year limit to claim damages from a drunk-driving case, but it’s best to sue when details are fresh in your mind. Get in touch with us today.
Disclaimer: This blog is intended as general information purposes only, and is not a substitute for legal advice. Anyone with a legal problem should consult a lawyer immediately.