Being the victim of a traffic accident can be devastating. But when that accident is caused by the reckless, irresponsible actions of a drunk or intoxicated driver, the recovery and emotional healing process can be much more difficult.
If a drunk driver caused a traffic accident for you or a loved one, you are fully entitled to seek justice under the law. An arrest may have taken the drunk driver to jail, and perhaps they may lose their license, but that will do nothing to restore you, as their victim.
Despite decades spent in educating the public, media attention and increased penalties, drunk driving accidents continue to plague our highways, suburban streets and rural roadways.
It is illegal in all states to drive while under the influence of alcohol or drugs or to drive with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level of 0.08%. For drivers under the age of 21, the level is 0.02%, or essentially a zero tolerance level. Commercial drivers, such as bus or taxi drivers or truckers, are presumed impaired at 0.04%.
The statistics on DUI accidents from the National Highway Traffic Administration (NHTSA) and Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) are sobering:
Your chances of being a victim in a drunk driving accident increase at night, on weekends and on certain holidays such as New Year’s Eve, Memorial Day or the 4th of July. At any time while driving, you run the risk of being injured by a drunk driver.
Although driving with a BAC of 0.08% or while impaired is illegal, it is not necessarily indicative of what caused your accident. You still have to prove that the driver’s negligent conduct was the cause. Negligence is a legal principle of liability whereby a person owes a duty to exercise reasonable care while performing an activity so as not to injure or harm others. Every motorist who drives has a duty to use caution, to obey the traffic laws and to avoid injuring others on the roadways.
A motorist breaches that duty of due care when driving recklessly, speeding, being distracted or while impaired and causing an accident. When not acting responsibly or exercising ordinary care, the driver increases the risk of an accident. This leads to rear-end accidents, running red lights or stop signs, driving on the wrong side of the road, losing control of the vehicle or falling asleep.
In some cases, a bar or restaurant that served alcohol to an obviously intoxicated patron and allowed that person to drive may also be liable for any damages sustained by a person injured or killed by the patron who subsequently left the establishment and caused the accident.
Compensation in an auto accident is typically paid by the responsible motorist’s auto liability carrier. In Arizona, all motorists are required to carry liability limits of at least $15,000 per injury and $30,000 per accident. These are low levels of coverage, so it is imperative that drivers carry uninsured and underinsured motorist limits of at least $100,000 per injury and $300,000 per accident, to avoid circumstances where liability limits are woefully insufficient.
Typical damages in an auto accident case include those for medical expenses, lost wages, property damage and pain and suffering.
In a DUI accident, the injured party can also ask for punitive damages. These are damages in addition to those awarded designed to punish the responsible party for conduct deemed grossly negligent or deliberately wanton. Such awards are rare; however, if the at-fault driver had a BAC level that was excessive, and that driver seriously injured or killed someone, then the victim stands a better chance of collecting punitive damages. These awards, however, must come from the driver’s personal assets since insurance will not cover such conduct.