Of all the vehicle accidents that occur on the road, none are as unnecessary and preventable as collisions caused by drunk drivers. According to the North Carolina Division of Motor Vehicles, drunk driving accidents account for 6.5 percent of injuries and over 28 percent of fatalities in statewide auto accidents. On average, nearly 400 people are killed and more than 7,900 are injured each year in accidents where alcohol was a factor.
There is no excuse for driving while intoxicated. If you or a loved one was injured or a member of your family tragically died in an accident with a drunk driver, you may be entitled to significant compensation for your losses.
However, recovering the compensation you deserve can be difficult. An experienced drunk driving accident attorney at Whitley Law Firm can help you pursue full damages in your case.
What Compensation Can I Recover for a Drunk Driving Accident?
Broadly speaking, the compensation you may be entitled to for damages in an accident claim against a drunk driver are the same as what you may be able to recover in other types of car accident claims. The specific losses you sustain will determine the amount you can recover.
You may be entitled to compensation for the following in a drunk driving accident claim:
- Medical expenses (current and future)
- Lost wages
- Loss of earning capacity
- Out-of-pocket costs for travel related to medical care, hiring household help, etc.
- Pain and suffering
- Emotional distress
- Scarring and disfigurement
- Loss of consortium
In a wrongful death claim, surviving family members may be entitled to compensation for the loss of income and benefits the decedent otherwise would have provided, as well as damages for loss of companionship and household services. The decedent’s estate may be able to recover damages for medical bills, funeral and burial expenses, and the pain and suffering of the deceased prior to death.
Punitive Damages Exception for Drunk Driving Accident Claims
Another category of damages – punitive damages – may also be recoverable if your claim goes to trial. If your attorney presents evidence that the defendant’s actions were wanton and willful or malicious, the court may choose to award you and your loved ones punitive damages as a means of penalizing the liable party.
North Carolina generally caps punitive damages at $250,000 OR three times the amount of other damages awarded in your case – whichever is greater. Claims involving drunk driving accidents are the one exception to this rule.
There is no cap on punitive damages if the at-fault driver was impaired at the time of the accident.
How Do I Recover Compensation for a Drunk Driving Accident?
The most common way to recover damages for personal injury or wrongful death after a drunk driving accident is to file a claim against the impaired driver. Your accident claim is an entirely separate matter from any criminal charges the driver may face for driving while intoxicated, and you do not have to wait for the driver to be convicted before you bring a claim.
However, suing the drunk driver may not be the only legal option at your disposal.
To recover full compensation for damages caused by the drunk driver, it is important to consider all potentially liable parties. A drunk driving accident attorney can investigate on your behalf and advise you of your options.
1. Suing the Drunk Driver
You may not need to file a lawsuit to pursue compensation for a drunk driving accident. In most cases, the first step is to file a claim with the driver’s insurance provider.
The insurance company may attempt to dispute liability for the accident by claiming that the insured intentionally engaged in wrongdoing by drinking and driving. If this happens, your attorney can attempt to negotiate on your behalf and/or file a lawsuit against the driver and the insurance company as necessary.
2. Suing a Commercial Business
It may seem unthinkable that anyone would be intoxicated when they get behind the wheel of a truck or other heavy commercial vehicle. Unfortunately, drug and alcohol use is a persistent problem among commercial drivers.
Both the commercial driver and his or her employer may be liable for a truck accident or other commercial vehicle collision caused by impairment. An experienced attorney can investigate to determine if the trucking company failed to perform adequate pre-employment screenings, failed to test drivers for alcohol and drugs, or engaged in other negligence that contributed to the accident.
3. Suing a ‘Dram Shop’ or Social Host
Dram shop laws establish the liability of businesses that sell alcohol for the actions of customers who are overserved. In North Carolina, social hosts (i.e., private individuals who serve alcohol to guests) are also liable under the dram shop laws in certain circumstances.
Bars, restaurants, and other establishments can be held liable if a customer under the age of 21 is negligently served alcohol and that customer then drives drunk and causes an accident. Establishments are also prohibited from serving alcohol to patrons of any age who are visibly intoxicated (generally, this qualifies as negligent service). However, the business is not liable in the event of a drunk driving accident if the overserved customer is 21 or older.
Dram shop liability for social hosts is somewhat different. Unlike a business that serves alcohol, a social host can be held liable for accidents caused by an impaired guest (a) if they serve alcohol to a minor AND (b) if they serve alcohol to an individual who shows visible signs of intoxication.
Contact a Drunk Driving Accident Attorney Today
As you can see, there are multiple options to recover compensation after a drunk driving accident. However, the process of identifying all of the liable parties, fully calculating the losses you have suffered, and pursuing one or more claims to recover damages is challenging.
With the Whitley Advantage, you have a team of lawyers and experienced support staff on your side. As a client of Whitley Law Firm, you get personalized attention, compassionate support, and wholehearted dedication to winning your case.
If you have been injured or lost a loved one in a crash with a drunk driver, please call (919) 785-5000 today. The drunk driving accident attorneys at Whitley Law Firm serve clients in Raleigh, Winston-Salem, New Bern, and throughout North Carolina. It won’t cost anything to see if we can help.