Injured By a Drunk Driver: Who’s Responsible for Payment?
Most of the time, car accidents are not criminal offenses. People will not get charges or serve time in prison for car accidents if they are truly accidents and the people involved were operating legally. However, many car accidents are caused by intoxicated drivers, and the injuries and damages from these accidents can be severe.
Since drunk driving is a criminal offense, victims of drunk driving accidents may feel like the process for gaining compensation through a civil legal case might be more complex. However, with the help of a car accident or personal injury attorney, you should be able to get the compensation you need, despite parallel criminal charges against the at-fault driver.
Here's what you need to know about collecting payment and what to expect when you're injured by an intoxicated driver.
Work Through Insurance
Most drivers have mandated liability insurance. This insurance covers you even if the driver of the car who caused your accident was under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Insurers may not cover the injuries and damages for the at-fault driver, but they usually will always cover, at least in part, damages to the victim of the accident.
Because accidents from intoxicated driving can be severe, insurance companies may rush for a quick settlement in order to protect themselves from paying much more later on. However, the extent of your damages is not always apparent at first.
For example, the insurance company may offer enough to cover initial bills and the replacement of your property, but you might need more as time goes on due to prolonged chronic pain and reduced ability to work. If a person passes away several months after an accident due to complications from that accident, wrongful death might also be included as part of the suit.
To make negotiating with the other driver's insurance company easier, work through a lawyer as soon as you can. Your legal representative can handle the back and forth of your case while you deal with the day-to-day realities of handling surgeries, bills, and treatment plans. However, you should save:
- All medical bills. These may begin to stack up alarmingly, but the increasing costs will inform you how much your case is worth and how much you'll need for full compensation.
- Doctor’s advice and prescriptions. These also represent monetary value. For example, if your doctor recommends bed rest, working might not be possible.
- Stress on family members and needed counseling. Mental health is important and should be considered as part of your suit. Drunk driving accidents can be especially traumatic for victims, and they might struggle with anger or depression as a result.
- Days lost at work and subsequent decreases in income. Medical care takes time, and time is money.
Your own car insurance may also help with some more immediate expenses. For example, if you need a replacement vehicle, your own insurance might cover that cost right away and later request the cost back again from the at-fault insurance company. Your own medical insurance may also help cover some immediate hospital expenses.
A guilty conviction in the criminal case can help your civil case hold more weight against the insurance company. To help ensure a guilty conviction, consider testifying or providing a witness statement.
When a Driver Is Not Insured
Unfortunately, some drivers do not have the legally required liability insurance, which can make getting compensation much more difficult. First-offense DUI convictions can make it harder for a driver to get insurance, and they might decide to forgo it before committing a second offense. Statistics show that one-third of first-time DUI offenders will repeat the crime.
Your lawyer may go after personal assets of the at-fault driver to cover your bills. For example, if the driver owns a home or business, your costs might be covered by forced liquidation of these properties. If the driver was a minor, parents of the minor may end up paying for the damages out of insurance or personal property, depending on the circumstances.
If the driver has no significant assets, your lawyer can help you get compensation from your own insurance, especially if you have coverage under an uninsured driver’s policy.
Other Liable Parties
In some cases, you may be able to seek damages beyond just the responsible driver. In New Jersey, you can sometimes go after establishments or people who provide alcohol to drunk drivers in certain circumstances.
For example, if a server continues to serve a person who is already visibly intoxicated, they might be liable for injuries caused afterward in a drunk driving accident. Establishments also can be liable for damages if they knowingly serve a patron who is under 21.
Private parties can also be responsible under social host liability laws. If a person leaves a house party and causes injury by drunk driving, the host of the party may be liable for damages as well as the driver of the car.
These protections may not extend to all victims in all circumstances, but they can be a recourse for those injured, especially if the driver was not insured.
For more information, contact us at Gelman Gelman Wiskow & McCarthy LLC.