People do drive drunk. The Georgia Governor’s Office of Highway Safety (2017) has set a target “To reduce alcohol/drug related motor vehicle crashes, injuries and fatalities through the systematic delivery of effective program countermeasures.” They hope “to decrease alcohol impaired driving fatalities 9.6% from 291 (2012-2014 average) to 263 (2015-2017 average) in 2017.” Indications are Georgia will not meet that goal.
Drunk drivers can hit any driver, pedestrian, cyclist, and first responder on the road causing damage to property and person. If you and your passengers can walk away from a damaged vehicle, you are doing well. But, the personal injuries, loss of income, and stress can complicate your life.
The statistics tell you to be prepared. You must check on the immediate medical needs of the people involved. But, you should also know legal options after getting hit by a drunk driver.
Use a checklist
After an accident, it may be difficult, but you must keep your cool. If you suspect the other driver is drunk, you have the advantage, so you can breathe deeply and set about acting prudently.
- Georgia a “fault” state. The at-fault driver is liable for any damages. As the injured driver, you will file a claim with your insurance company which will seek payment from the at-fault driver’s insurance. And, you can sue in civil court for personal injuries you have not been able to settle in the insurance process.
- Make a “third-party” claim. You have the option to file a claim directly with the drunk driver’s insurance company. They may consider this an aggressive move on your part and surprise you with an attractive settlement offer. If you want to press further, you need advice on where and how to act next.
- Act quickly. If you are physically able, you should care for those who have been injured. You must be careful to avoid aggravating personal injuries, but if the others are in obvious distress and risk of further injury, you should act to help as much as you can.
- Call the cops. You want the police there as soon as possible. You need them to assess the sobriety of the other driver. You want them to draw a picture of the accident based on what they observe, measure, and hear. They also will separate the drivers to reduce the potential for argument and to take a record of each driver’s version and the contribution of witnesses and passengers.
- Refuse early settlement. Even drunk drivers sober up when they have caused an accident. They may be anxious to offer you money. That could mean they have previous DUIs on their record. It could mean they don’t want the news to go public. Or, it could mean they are not adequately insured under the law. In any case, you need time to assess the physical damage to the car and to determine how badly injured you and your passengers are. After all, some property and personal damages do not show up right away.
- Do the paperwork. You need the other driver’s personal information: address, phone number, driver’s license number, and so on. You should cooperate and provide your own information. But, if the at-fault drunk driver is uncooperative, belligerent, or well under the influence, you can secure the information from the police.
- Task the witnesses. It helps if you have witnesses to the event. Most people are anxious to help, and they will tell the police what they saw. However, you need the information, too, so you might ask them personally for their name, address, and phone. You can get the same info from the police.
- Take a picture. You might carry a camera in your glove compartment for several reasons. But, today’s smartphones let you take, save, and share photos. So, if you are up to it, you should photograph the damage to the car, the injuries incurred, the license plates, and anything at the crash site that may help explain the accident.
- Get the insurance. You will need the driver’s car insurance policy number, dates of coverage, and phone number. You also want to know how to get a copy of the police report. Again, you can use your smartphone camera to copy all the important forms.
- Call the doctor. Regardless of how you feel at the moment, you should contact 9-1-1 for help especially if others are hurt. You not only need the medical attention, but you also want to show you acted prudently. The care rendered by first responders begins the chain of tests, treatments, and therapies to follow, each of which increases the cost of your loss.
- Let them arrest the drunk driver. The police are required to follow some protocols with drunk drivers. They must test them, and depending on the results, they will remove the driver from the road. Depending on the seriousness of the accident and the injuries, depending on the laws broken leading to the accident, the police will charge the driver as required. Possible charges include driving under the influence or manslaughter. The public prosecutor will press the charges before Criminal Court, but they have no direct connection with your financial settlement. Still, you may be called as a witness.
- Recover your loss. In the event of an accident, you want to be made whole. You want to replace your vehicle to at least the condition before the accident. You want to regain your health. You want to return to the work or comparable work you were doing before the accident. And, you want to be sure your passengers are compensated as well.
- Leave it the insurance adjuster. Your insurance company has processes to follow. It’s their job to protect your interest and theirs. But, they also want to expedite the process because claims don’t get better the longer they are under review. Your insurance company will negotiate a financial settlement and make the offer to you. If you are satisfied with the settlement, you can accept it. However, if you do not think it measures up to the cost in damages, injury, and emotional suffering you have endured, you can take it to civil court.
- Fight the good fight. You have the right and option to take your case to civil court where you can seek injury compensation after a DUI accident. Your attorney may sue the driver, the driver’s insurance company, the automaker, the agency responsible for road conditions, and more. You might even sue the alcohol provider under the “dram” rule which holds the bartender or restaurant partially responsible or the host at home or event for providing drinks in excess. The upside means you may benefit more, but the downside is that your lawsuit will take more time.
- Think twice before court. You do not have to sue. Insurance companies know the cost of defending their interests in court, and they will likely offer money that meets your needs if you press the issue. They are also concerned about the jury’s decision, especially where there is a drunk driver involved. Those threats will drive the insurance companies to come up with an acceptable settlement offer without going to court.
- Hire a lawyer. These options are yours to pursue. However, it’s not something you can or want to do on your own. The insurance and court processes require guidance. You someone who knows how to take a shortcut when they see one, someone who understands the paperwork and timelines, someone who knows how to manage your pathway, and someone who has dealt with the systems in their clients’ favor in the past.
Life can be hard!
Accidents will happen, and they can define your life. When, however, the accident is the fault of an irresponsible driver, it can be harder to take. What you can do is prepare. The better you know your legal rights and options, the better equipped you are to manage the situation.
You can pursue the “special” damages meant to repay the dollars you pay for medical costs, lost work hours, and other out-of-pocket losses. But, you also have the option to seek compensation for “general” losses incurred through physical and/or mental anguish, emotional suffering, and other subjective effects. And, there are the “compensatory” damages courts may allow as a punishment for the drunk driver for reckless and irresponsible behavior and as a warning to others who might pursue similar actions.
A typical settlement approach is to multiply the clear special damages by a factor of 1.50 to 4 to suggest a fair amount if there are no extenuating circumstances to your accident. However, the drunk driver fault adds to the issue. The DUI creates an aggravating circumstance which, together with the seriousness of the injuries, the length of recovery, and the completeness of the recovery, may increase that multiplier.
You benefit from being the coolest head. Cool, calm, and collected, you serve your own interests. You present model behavior when the drunk driver is already in trouble.
The Center for Disease Control reports 29 deaths a day, one every 50 minutes, costing the economy $44 billion annually. While you don’t want to be among the statistics, you do want to fight right!