We all know that drunk driving poses a serious danger on the road, making the work of car accident lawyers sadly necessary—but do you know how many Virginians actually suffer every year due to the negligence of drunk drivers? Recent years have seen drunk driving crash totals of over 7,000 across the state. If that’s not enough to make you think twice before hitting the road after a drink, consider this: 262 fatalities and nearly 5,000 injuries occurred as a direct result of those accidents. Unfortunately, these deaths and injuries are completely preventable. Virginia relentlessly pursues individuals that it observes breaking blood alcohol content laws, legal drinking age limits, and zero-tolerance laws. States across the nation take every additional step they can to stop senseless fatalities like these; however, all the checkpoints in the world can’t seem to change the unnerving reality of the dangers of drunk driving.
What Should I Do if a Drunk Driver Hit Me?If you or your vehicle were hit by a drunk driver, it’s important to remain calm. Time-sensitive and life-saving first aid—if necessary—should always be administered by capable parties as soon as possible after a crash. Once you’ve called the police to request that they visit the scene, try to:
- Remain calm; this will help your body and mind after the accident
- Do not leave the scene; even if the crash was minor, you may be charged for a crime if you vacate the scene early
- Collect personal information from the other driver; then, work on taking down any witness’ names and contact information
- Visit the doctor as soon as possible
- Do not accept immediate offers from insurance companies
- Consult with a reputable drunk driving attorney
Victims of Drunk Driving Accidents May Be Eligible for Additional CompensationVictims of any type of car accident may be eligible to recover damages in court. These damages often account for costs like medical expenses, pain and suffering, and lost wages. Victims who have experienced injuries as a result of drunk driving, in specific, may also have the opportunity to file claims for punitive damages. Punitive damages are sums of money paid directly out of a negligent party’s pocket. They’re meant to serve as discouraging warning posts for individuals who may make similar mistakes. Punitive damages allow the legal system to utilize negligent individuals as public examples of what occurs when laws are broken, and serve as a form of redress in cases of particular recklessness or misconduct.
Common Injuries in Drunk Driving AccidentsSerious injuries may result from drunk driving accidents. While these don’t vary tremendously from the injuries sustained during other motor vehicle crashes, victims should be aware of their risk of sustaining:
- Traumatic brain injuries | These injuries can lead to motor function impairment and cognition trouble. In some cases, they even result in coma or death. A traumatic brain injury, or TBI, may be exceptionally difficult for medical professionals to recognize or diagnose
- Back and spine injuries | Injuries to the spine and back are also exceptionally dangerous. They may include spinal disc injuries, fractures, back strains, and other types of spinal cord injuries
- Skin injuries | Skin injuries often take the forms of lacerations or burns. Some lead to disfigurement and scarring. Those that don’t still often lead to skin damage and pain
- Broken bones | Bones can be broken in many ways. Whether the fracture is minor or severe, these injuries can lead to invasive surgeries and expensive medical care
- Psychological injuries | The impact of psychological injuries on a victim should not be overlooked. Mental unrest due to depression, anxiety, and even PTSD are not uncommon for victims of drunk driving accidents
The Importance of Legal GuidanceSome drunk driving accident victims wonder why legal professionals promote contacting an attorney as soon as possible after a crash. The reason is twofold: first, it gives you ample time to select the lawyer that best meets your individual needs. Some personal injury cases take much longer to litigate than others. If you’re going to be working with your attorney for an extended period of time, you deserve a partner that you can trust. There is, however, another purpose for seeking legal counsel early-on in this process. Chances are that whoever was responsible for the accident filled in their insurance company before you had a chance to even consider talking to a professional. Most of these insurance companies start harassing accident victims before any time has passed following their accidents. A seasoned personal injury attorney will be able to help guide you through negotiations with parties like these. Your lawyer will inform you when and when not to accept certain offers, what sorts of steps you’re legally obligated to take, and so on. This level of input simplifies the legal process considerably.
Richmond Drunk Driving Accident FAQWith approximately 6 million licensed drivers on the road in Virginia, it is no surprise that accidents are an everyday occurrence. Across the nation more than 90 Americans die each day as the result of car accidents. According to Virginia Traffic Crash Facts, 131,848 crashes accounted for 819 fatalities and 66,523 injuries in just one recent year. Despite the imposition of strict penalties and harsh fines for drunk driving, alcohol impairment remains a major contributing cause of car crashes throughout Virginia.
When is a driver considered legally drunk in Virginia?There were 7,181 alcohol-related crashes in Virginia in just one year—5.4 percent of all Virginia traffic crashes—causing 262 fatalities. While other states have adopted the term “driving under the influence” (DUI), under Virginia law, “driving while intoxicated” (DWI), is the term used to refer to drinking and driving. However, DWI and DUI may be used interchangeably to refer to drunk or drugged driving. According to Virginia law:
- A non-commercial driver aged 21 or older who has a blood-alcohol level of 0.08 or greater is considered legally drunk.
- A driver of commercial vehicles who has a blood-alcohol level of 0.04 percent or greater is considered legally drunk. In Virginia, school bus drivers are considered commercial vehicle drivers.
- A driver under the age of 21 who has a blood-alcohol level of 0.02 or greater is considered legally drunk.
What are the criminal penalties for drunk driving in Virginia?Virginia has strict laws and penalties governing impaired driving. In Virginia, driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol is a criminal offense. However, the consequences of impaired driving can affect more than just your driving privileges, for example:
- For first-time offenders, penalties may include up to 12 months in jail, a minimum fine of $250 to $2,500, and a one-year suspension of their driver’s license. When a driver has a particularly high blood-alcohol level, additional jail time may be imposed.
- For a person who commits a second DWI within five years of the first offense, penalties may include one month to one year in jail and minimum fines from $250 to $2,500. In some cases, additional fines and jail time may apply. Those who commit a second offense within 10 years of the first will have their driver’s license revoked for three years.
- Penalties for three DWI convictions within a ten year period may include license revocation, a minimum fine of $1,000, prosecution as a Class 6 felony, and a mandatory minimum 90-day jail sentence. In addition, three DWI offenses could result in the permanent forfeiture of the person’s vehicle, if the person is the sole owner.
- A fourth or subsequent DWI conviction within a 10-year period carries a penalty of a minimum of one year in prison and a fine of $1,000 to $2,500. Additionally, the repeat offender’s driver’s license will be revoked indefinitely.
What injuries do victims suffer?Common injuries resulting from accidents caused by impaired driving include:
- Back and neck injuries. These injuries may be serious and result in a long-term disability, such as paralysis.
- Head injuries. Head injuries or traumatic brain injuries may not be immediately apparent, but even so, they can have catastrophic consequences. Be aware of signs and symptoms that may indicate a head injury, such as severe or frequent headaches, nausea, or cognitive impairment.
- Internal injuries. Forceful blows to vital organs can cause dangerous internal bleeding.
- Rib and torso injuries. Injuries to the ribs and torso can be dangerous, in part because the ribs protect many vital organs. Broken ribs may potentially puncture vital organs, such as the lungs.
- Lacerations and burns. Lacerations and burns may leave the injured person with extensive scarring or permanent disfigurement, which oftentimes may lead to psychological issues.
- Broken Bones. Broken bones may require long-term treatment or surgery.
- Seat belt injuries. Seat belts are an essential safety device, but they may also cause injuries, such as whiplash.
- Wrongful death. The family or heirs of someone killed in an accident might be eligible for compensation through a wrongful death lawsuit.
What laws govern negligence in Virginia?Civil liability might not be the first thing you think of when it comes to drunk driving accidents. However, it is one of the most common actions taken when a drunk driver injures someone. The legal definition of negligence is the “failure to behave with the level of care that someone of ordinary prudence would have exercised under the same circumstances.” When filing a lawsuit based on someone’s negligence, injured parties must establish:
- The existence of a legal duty that the defendant owed to the plaintiff,
- Defendant’s breach of that duty,
- Plaintiff’s sufferance of an injury, and
- Proof that defendant’s breach caused the injury.
What compensation can I recover for my injuries?The court awards compensatory damages to injured parties to compensate them for damages they have suffered and losses they have incurred as a result of an accident. Damages may include present and future medical bills, lost wages, and compensation for pain and suffering. Under certain circumstances, the court may award punitive damages in a drunk driving case. Punitive damages are intended to punish offenders for intentional, willful, or wanton acts.
Can I still sue if the drunk driver refused to take a Breathalyzer test?You can still sue a drunk driver if he or she has refused a breathalyzer. Virginia law permits an injured party to seek punitive damages if a driver has “unreasonably refused to submit” to a breath or blood alcohol test. Other evidence may show that the defendant was intoxicated at the time of the accident. For example, a driver that knew or should have known that his or her ability to operate a motor vehicle was impaired may prove the driver was intoxicated.
What should I do if I was injured in a drunk-driving accident?
- First and foremost, if you have sustained injuries in a motor vehicle accident, you should immediately seek appropriate medical care. Some injuries do not exhibit symptoms right away, so you may be injured and not realize it. It is important to seek evaluation and treatment by medical personnel right away.
- Collect as much information and evidence from the scene as possible.
- Speak to a personal injury attorney to make sure your legal rights are protected.