If you or a loved one wound up on the receiving end of a drunk driver, speaking with a drunk driving accident attorney is one of the best ways to protect yourself. An experienced car accident lawyer can help you develop a plan for moving forward, and serve as an advocate through every step of the claims process.
When you get behind the wheel after drinking, you not only take your life into your hands, but you also take others’ lives into your hands. You might think that you can handle a vehicle while you are drunk, but alcohol severely inhibits motor skills, including those that you need to drive.
Alcohol also affects your reaction time, so when you have to come to a stop or slow down, you might not notice the vehicle in front of you until it’s too late. Depending on your speed and other factors, you might have the death of an innocent person on your hands. Even in a one-car wreck, you could kill yourself, a pedestrian, or even one of your passengers.
For example, a man charged with driving under the influence ran into and knocked down several light poles. When the police arrived at the scene, they found a second accident: Someone else wrecked when that person was trying to avoid the drunk driving accident. In another case, a man who crashed into a Dunkin’ Donuts was charged with driving under the influence. No one suffered harm in this incident because nobody was in the store where the drunk driver went through the wall. A man crashed into another man, killing him. Police charged the drunk driver with DUI and involuntary manslaughter.
Penalties for DUI
Virginia has severe penalties for driving under the influence, but that doesn’t seem to stop people from getting behind the wheel after they’ve had a few. Unfortunately, putting someone in jail for causing an accident that injured you or your loved one doesn’t take away your injuries, nor does it bring your loved one back. If you suffer from injuries or lost a loved one, you can also file a claim to recover several expenses.
If the court determines that the defendant’s actions were grossly negligent, you may also recover punitive damages. As with jail time for the defendant, money doesn’t erase what happened. However, money does go a long way in reducing the financial stress you are under because you can’t work, or because you’re suddenly dealing with a one-income or zero-income household due to the loss of a spouse or another loved one.
When you file a civil claim against a drunk driver, you could recover certain damages, including special, general, and punitive damages.
Special damages, sometimes referred to as economic damages, including those that have a dollar amount attached to them. These are items you have to come out of pocket for, whether an insurance company pays them or you pay them.
Economic damages include:
- Past medical expenses for those incurred because of the accident
- Future medical expenses for those you will incur as a result of the accident, including additional surgeries, follow-up appointments, and appointments for physical therapy, cognitive therapy, and psychological therapy. If an accident is particularly severe, you could suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. In other cases, dealing with long-term or permanent injuries causes depression and/or anxiety.
- Past lost wages for the time you missed from work just after the accident.
- Future lost wages for the time you will miss during recovery. If your injuries do not allow you to go back to work, you might receive compensation for lifetime lost wages. Even if you can go back to work, but cannot get a job that is comparable in pay to the job you did before the accident, you could potentially receive lost wages damages for the difference in salary.
- Replacement or repair of personal property damaged in the wreck, including your vehicle and property inside your vehicle.
- Medical aids such as walkers, wheelchairs, oxygen tanks, and braces.
- Funeral and burial expenses.
General damages, often referred to as non-economic damages, are those for which no firm price exists (such as a medical bill or mechanic’s invoice). As with economic damages, non-economic damages mean to make you whole again; the court usually awards general damages if you sustain long-term or permanent injuries.
Non-economic damages include:
- Pain and suffering;
- Loss of companionship if your spouse, a child, or parent cannot participate in family activities;
- Loss of consortium if your spouse can no longer have a physical relationship with you;
- Inconvenience if you have to hire someone to do every-day chores, including cleaning, grocery shopping, mowing the lawn, and other home maintenance;
- Disfigurement; and
- Loss of use of a body part or function, such as walking or your eyesight.
A court orders punitive damages when the defendant’s actions were considered grossly negligent. While uncommon, in some cases, a drunk driver might be ordered to pay punitive damages, which the court orders as a punishment against the defendant, rather than compensation to make you whole.
Pursuing a Convicted Drunk Driver
Many people are under the impression that if a drunk driver goes to jail for his or her actions, they can’t sue the driver for damages. When you sue in civil court, you are asking the court to make the drunk driver pay you for the damage he or she caused during the accident. In most cases, the defendant’s insurance company pays any damages due to you.
However, insurance companies are in business to make money. That means that they will find a way to deny your claim, or make an offer that is so low that it might not cover your medical expenses, never mind anything else. Insurance companies do not like dealing with clients with representation. They know that they will either have to pay a fair and reasonable settlement or go to court—and going to court means that the insurance company shells out more money to pay its lawyers for the time it takes to prepare for trial and litigate a claim. A good car accident lawyer can make this point convincingly and hopefully speed you through the process of recovering compensation.