Auto accidents are traumatic and can result in tragedies that scar a family for life.
When the accident was caused by a drunk driver, however, you know it was avoidable, and the trauma and anger can be much worse… why would someone do something so stupid that could take away my loved one and cause so much pain for a family they have never met?
When someone is seriously injured or killed by a drunk driver, the driver is usually arrested and charged with felony DUI. Maybe the criminal courts will punish them, but that doesn’t bring back a DUI victim, and it can’t turn back time.
It also doesn’t pay for the massive medical costs and property damage that can result from a drunk driving accident or compensate you for the physical and emotional pain that you are suffering…
What is the process for a drunk driving accident lawsuit, and what kind of damages can you recover?
A Drunk Driver Hit Me – What Should I Do Next?
Talk to a local personal injury attorney with experience handling car wrecks and drunk driving accident cases.
Don’t waste any time – your attorney will need to investigate the crash, investigate the defendant, and may need to retain experts like an accident reconstructionist to put together the evidence that you will need to prove both liability and the amount of damages that they owe to you.
The insurance company for the defendant will almost certainly be contacting you quickly as well – they know that they might be exposed to significant liability based on their insured’s actions, and they will do everything they can to minimize the amount of money they have to pay.
That could mean getting you to make statements that will hurt your case later, or talking you into an early, cheap settlement in exchange for a release of liability – either of which is easier for them if you don’t have an attorney yet.
DUI Accident Investigations
Your attorney will need to act quickly to find out:
- How the accident happened;
- Who the potential witnesses may be;
- How much the defendant had to drink;
- Whose vehicle the defendant was driving (and whether they knew the defendant was drinking and driving); and
- Who provided the alcohol to the defendant.
An accident reconstructionist may be needed to determine exactly how and why the accident happened, and you may need medical care or evaluation by experts who can assist in your personal injury case.
What Kind of Lawsuit Can I File After a Drunk Driver Hits Me?
DUI accident lawsuits, like “ordinary” car wreck cases, are usually based on negligence. One difference is that driving while drunk will almost always be considered “gross negligence,” and punitive damages will usually be available at trial.
Who Do I Sue?
Your attorney will need to determine all possible sources of recovery before filing your lawsuit – the defendants could include:
- The drunk driver;
- The owner of the car, if they knew or should have known that the driver would drive drunk and allowed them to drive anyway (negligent entrustment);
- The bar or restaurant that served the alcohol to the drunk driver (a “dram shop” action); or
- The driver’s employer, if they were in a company vehicle or “on the clock” when the accident happened.
What Kind of Damages Can I Recover After a Drunk Driver Hits Me?
Like other types of auto accident or personal injury cases, you are entitled to compensation for damages that the defendant caused, including:
- Medical bills and future medical bills;
- Lost wages and reduction in earning capacity;
- Damage to the vehicle or other property;
- Pain and suffering; and
- Any other costs that were a result of the accident.
Can I Recover Punitive Damages in a Drunk Driving Accident Case?
South Carolina allows for punitive damages in any personal injury case if you prove that the defendant’s actions were “willful, wanton, or reckless.”
In most cases, you will have to prove it by “clear and convincing evidence.” In a drunk driving accident case, you only need to prove that they were driving while intoxicated.
Although punitive damages are capped in most cases at three times the compensatory damages award or $500,000 (whichever is less), there is no cap on punitive damages if the other driver was drunk, intoxicated on drugs, or has been convicted of a felony related to the accident.
Will the Drunk Driver that Hit Me Go to Prison?
They might – judges usually hand down harsh sentences for defendants who are convicted of felony DUI, although it makes a difference whether it was felony DUI with death or felony DUI with great bodily injury.
In a drunk driving accident case, it is critical that your attorney work with the prosecutor whenever possible to ensure that your voice is heard, that there is a conviction when appropriate, and that you get the evidence you need to prove your civil case.
Your lawyer can communicate with the solicitor’s office for you, letting them know what you and your family’s wishes are in the criminal case, and speak on your behalf in court when appropriate.
What if Their Criminal Case is Dismissed?
If the drunk driver’s criminal case is dismissed or reduced to a lesser charge – which could happen, based on evidentiary issues or when the officer mishandles the investigation – you can still hold them accountable by pressing forward with your civil lawsuit against them.
The standard of proof in a criminal case is “beyond any reasonable doubt,” which can be a high hurdle to clear in some cases. The standard of proof in your civil lawsuit is much easier, however – “preponderance of the evidence.” If you prove that it is more likely than not that they caused your injuries, you win.
Even if they are not convicted of felony DUI, if you can prove that they were drunk in the civil lawsuit, you are entitled to punitive damages with no cap.
SC Drunk Driving Accident Lawyers in Horry County
If you’ve been hurt by a drunk driver on the road, the personal injury lawyers at Coastal Law will fight to get maximum compensation for you and your family.
Call now at (843) 488-5000 or contact us through our website to set up a free consultation and find out how we can help.