Frequently Asked Questions About Drunk Driving Accidents
Q: What should I do if I am involved in a car accident with a drunk driver?
A: If you are injured in the accident, seek medical attention immediately. If you fear other people may have been injured, call for help. You also should contact the police and get a copy of the police report. As much as possible, document the accident by taking careful notes about the accident, including the names and contact information of any witnesses and your recollection of what happened. If you decide to take legal action, these notes can be invaluable to your case.
Q: Can people other than those involved in a drunk driving accident bring a lawsuit for that accident?
A: Yes. Legal representatives and family members of someone injured or killed in a car accident can bring a lawsuit. In certain circumstances, close family members who witnessed the accident also may bring a suit. These parties may seek compensation from the drunk driver or third parties, such as the vendor who sold the alcohol to the intoxicated driver.
Q: I was partly at fault for my car accident, but the other driver was legally intoxicated. What happens now?
A: In most states, the rules of comparative negligence apply. In these states, the damage award will be reduced by the degree of fault of the plaintiff. For example, if you are found 20 percent responsible for the accident, any compensation you receive will be reduced by 20 percent. For example, a $100,000 award will be reduced 20 percent to $80,000. A minority of states apply contributory negligence rules. In these states, if you are responsible in any way for your accident, even as little as one percent, you will not be able to recover anything for your losses. Lastly, some states have a hybrid comparative negligence rule in which if the plaintiff is found to be more than 50 percent at fault for the accident, the plaintiff will be barred from recovering any damages.
Q: My daughter was involved in a car accident with a drunk driver who had just left a bar. Can I sue the bar?
A: In some situations, a vendor who provided alcohol to an intoxicated person who then causes a drunk driving accident can be held liable for the accident. The vendor may be found liable under the state's dram shop act, alcoholic beverage control statute or if neither of these apply, under common law negligence principles.
Q: I was a passenger in a car driven by a drunk driver, and I was injured when he crashed into a fence. Can I sue him?
A: Possibly. Drivers owe a duty of reasonable care not only to other drivers and pedestrians, but also to passengers in his or her vehicle. This duty does not change because a driver is intoxicated. However, if the passenger contributed to the driver's intoxication or knew the driver was intoxicated, but chose to ride with him or her anyway, the passenger may be unable to make a successful claim against the driver.
Q: How long after a drunk driving accident can I bring a lawsuit for my injuries?
A: Most states require that lawsuits for personal injury arising from automobile accidents (including drunk driving accidents) be brought within one year. For this reason, it is very important that you meet with an attorney to discuss your case as soon as possible.
Q: If I have a party at my house and a guest becomes intoxicated and then injures someone in a drunk driving accident after leaving, can I be sued for those injuries?
A: Possibly, depending on the facts of the case and the laws in your jurisdiction. Not all states recognize social host liability. Under this theory, a social host may be held liable for injuries caused by intoxicated guests whom they provided with alcohol. An attorney in your area can advise you on your state's laws and determine whether social host liability may apply in your situation.
Q: Are punitive damages available in drunk driving accidents?
A: Yes. Punitive damages are damages awarded above and beyond those required to compensate a victim for hir or her injuries or other losses. The purpose of punitive damages is to punish the offender and to serve as a warning to others not to commit the same acts.
Q: Do criminal proceedings against a drunk driver have to be completed before civil actions against the driver can be filed?
A: No. Those injured by a drunk driver can file a civil suit before the criminal proceedings against the drunk driver are concluded. Considering the limited time you have to file a suit to recover damages against a drunk driver, it is best not to wait. A personal injury attorney can discuss this with you in more detail.
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