Drunk driving is an unfortunately common occurrence in the United States. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 223 people were killed in drunk driving crashes in Tennessee in 2016. Nationally, nearly one in three traffic deaths is caused by someone driving under the influence. If you or someone you love is injured by a drunk driver, you need to know what to expect as you file a claim against the at-fault driver.
Drunk Driving Accidents May Have Criminal and Civil Charges
Since it is illegal to drive a vehicle while under the influence of alcohol or drugs, the state can bring a criminal case against the impaired driver who caused your crash. However, the intent of the criminal case is to investigate and punish the driver for illegal activity, not to compensate you for the effects of the crash. In order to be awarded damages, you must bring a civil case against the driver to hold him or her responsible for the costs of the accident.
Drunk driving cases may proceed like other crash cases, but there are a few differences, including:
- Compensatory damages. Victims typically sue at-fault drivers for their medical bills, lost wages, property damage, and other out-of-pocket losses. In a drunk driving case, the driver may not swerve or stop the vehicle before the collision, causing a harder impact and more extensive injuries, which will require higher compensatory damages.
- Disability. Higher injury rates may result in paralysis, permanent inability to earn a living, loss of future opportunities, loss of fertility, and lost enjoyment of life.
- Punitive damages. Punitive damages are an additional amount awarded to the victim to punish the drunk drive for his or her actions. As drunk driving is a reckless and illegal action, courts may grant significant punitive damage awards to victims.
- Hit-and-run accidents. Drunk drivers are more likely to flee the scene after a crash, leaving victims to pay for costs of the accident on their own. Our attorneys can be invaluable to hit-and-run victims by working to identify the drunk driver, or pursuing compensation from the victim’s own car insurance coverage if the driver cannot be located. If the victim has purchased uninsured or underinsured motorist coverage, we can take action to get the maximum amount of compensation allowed under the law.
- Dram shop liability. In some drunk driving cases, it is not only the driver who can be held liable for the costs of the crash. If a bar, restaurant, or liquor store knowingly served or sold too much alcohol to a person who went on to cause a crash, the establishment can be held partly responsible for the accident. This is known as "dram shop liability,” and it will take additional investigation of the details of your case to determine whether an alcohol-serving establishment may be liable.
- Wrongful death. Drunk driving crashes are overwhelmingly likely to cause the deaths of innocent victims, and relatives of deceased family members have the right to sue a drunk driver for the wrongful death of a loved one. In Tennessee, widowed spouses, children, and parents of a deceased victim can recover many different kinds of damages, including medical and funeral expenses related directly to the victim’s injuries, awards for the mental and physical suffering of the deceased prior to death, and the family’s loss of companionship, guidance, and consortium as a result of the death. Families can also be awarded an amount for the lost income and benefits the victim would have earned throughout his or her lifetime. Due to the heinous nature of drunk driving, families may be awarded punitive damages up to two times the amount of compensatory damages awarded or $500,000, whichever is greater.
If you or someone close to you has been injured by a drunk driver, we can explain your options at no cost to you. Our personal injury attorneys work on a contingency fee basis, so there are no upfront costs for legal representation and we are paid only after you receive a settlement. To learn more about car accident injury claims, fill out the short contact form on this page or request a free copy of our book, The 10 Worst Mistakes You Can Make With Your Tennessee Injury Case.