If you or a family member has been hurt by a drunk driver, how do you prove that the drunk driver was at fault?
Below, we will discuss how to prove 1) liability and 2) intoxication after a DUI accident in SC, including:
- Why a DUI conviction is important but not necessary in a DUI accident case,
- Gathering evidence of liability against both the drunk driver and the establishments that served them (dram shop liability),
- Punitive damages in a DUI accident case, and
- Avoiding the caps on punitive damages under SC law.
Is a DUI Conviction Enough to Prove the Drunk Driver was at Fault?
A DUI conviction doesn’t necessarily prove that a drunk driver was at fault in your accident, although it is key evidence in a DUI accident case both to prove liability and to recover punitive damages from the drunk driver.
It’s more likely that the other driver was at fault if they were drunk, however – there is no denying that intoxication is a leading factor in car crashes and deaths on SC highways. And evidence of the other driver’s intoxication is critical in your DUI accident lawsuit – how do you 1) prove fault after an auto accident and 2) gather evidence of the other driver’s intoxication?
Proving Fault After an Auto Accident
In every car accident case, the injured party must prove that:
- The other driver owed them a duty of care. This is usually simple enough in an auto accident case – every driver has a duty of care to use caution and to obey the traffic laws so as not to harm other motorists or pedestrians.
- The other driver violated their duty of care. This is proven when the other driver has violated a traffic law intended to keep the public safe, when they act recklessly, or when they drive while under the influence of alcohol or other drugs.
- The other driver’s negligence caused the crash that injured you. If a drunk driver passes out at the wheel and crashes into your car, their negligence in driving drunk was the cause of your injuries. If they run a red light because they are impaired, their negligence in driving drunk and in violating the traffic laws caused your injuries. If they were drunk but you caused the accident by running a stop sign, however, their negligence was not the proximate cause of the crash.
- The injured party has measurable damages that can be recovered in a lawsuit –for example, physical injuries, property damage, or death caused by the drunk driver’s negligence.
Even if the drunk driver is not convicted of DUI, 1) they are still liable for your damages if their negligence caused the car accident, and 2) they are still on the hook for punitive damages if you can prove that they were intoxicated.
In addition to DUI charges and a potential DUI conviction that can be used as evidence of negligence per se in your DUI accident case, your car accident lawyer will gather the evidence you need to prove liability, damages, and the other driver’s intoxication including:
- The responding officer’s report and investigation, which will include the officer’s observations at the accident scene and witness statements,
- Witness interviews, including witnesses identified by law enforcement and any other potential witnesses that can be identified,
- Breathalyzer or blood test results obtained from the law enforcement investigation,
- Video from the officer’s dashcam or bodycam that shows the other driver’s appearance and conduct at the accident scene,
- Surveillance footage from nearby businesses or residences,
- Video or photographs taken by the injured party or any witnesses on the scene, and
- Information obtained from expert consultants including an accident reconstructionist.
Once your lawsuit has been filed, your DUI accident lawyer can obtain additional information through subpoenas and the discovery process including:
- Deposition testimony under oath from the drunk driver and other witnesses that can be used at trial including how much the driver had to drink and which establishments served the alcohol to them,
- Documentary evidence including cell phone records and credit card and debit card statements that show which establishments served alcohol to the drunk driver and how much alcohol they purchased before the wreck,
- Video surveillance footage from the bar or restaurants that served alcohol to the drunk driver before the crash, and
- Answers to interrogatories and requests to admit that can establish liability on the part of the drunk driver and the establishments that served them.
Punitive Damages: Proving the At-Fault Driver was Drunk
Although evidence of intoxication is not necessary to prove liability in the car crash, evidence of the drunk driver’s intoxication is critical to establish 1) punitive damages and 2) dram shop liability against the bar or restaurant that served the drunk driver.
Dram Shop Liability
DUI accident lawsuits are not limited to a lawsuit against the drunk driver – if a bar, restaurant, or other establishment serves alcohol to either 1) a minor or 2) someone who is already visibly intoxicated, the establishment is also liable in a dram shop action for the damages the drunk driver causes when they hit the road.
No Caps on Punitive Damages Against a Drunk Driver
To get punitive damages in SC, you must prove by clear and convincing evidence that the other driver’s conduct was willful, wanton, or reckless – driving drunk qualifies.
Although SC law caps punitive damages in most cases, there are no caps under SC Code § 15-32-530 when you prove that:
- The defendant was convicted of a felony related to the accident (felony DUI, for example), or
- The defendant was under the influence of drugs or alcohol “to the degree that the defendant’s judgment is substantially impaired.”
Although a conviction for DUI or felony DUI helps establish that 1) you are entitled to punitive damages and 2) there is no cap on punitive damages in your case, a conviction is not necessary.
DUI defendants’ cases are often dismissed, or they are acquitted, for many reasons – the officer’s failure to follow the law at the accident scene, suppression of evidence in their criminal case, the prosecutor’s inability to prove the charges beyond any reasonable doubt (a higher standard of proof than in a civil case), or plea-bargaining to avoid a criminal trial.
Even if the drunk driver is not convicted in their criminal case, you are entitled to punitive damages – with no cap – if your attorney can establish in your civil case that they were intoxicated at the time of the crash.
DUI Accident Lawyers in Myrtle Beach, SC
If you’ve been hurt by a drunk driver, the DUI accident lawyers at Coastal Law can help you to investigate, gather the evidence that you need, negotiate your claim, and take your case to trial when they do not pay.
Schedule a free consultation to discuss the facts of your case by calling (843) 488-5000 or filling out our online form.