There is no excuse for driving drunk. Drunk drivers are hazards to themselves and others, and they cause a disproportionate number of serious and fatal auto accidents in North Carolina each year.
If you’ve been injured or lost a loved one in a drunk driving accident, what are your legal rights? Can you sue the drunk driver? A Raleigh drunk driving accident lawyer at the Whitley Law Firm can help you explore your rights and pursue the compensation you deserve.
Drivers, Passengers, Pedestrians, and Families Can Sue Drunk Drivers in North Carolina
As a general rule, drivers and passengers who suffer injuries in drunk driving accidents can sue the drunk driver. Pedestrians and cyclists can also sue drunk drivers, and so can families who lose loved ones in fatal car accident cases.
North Carolina law not only holds drunk drivers criminally responsible, but it holds them civilly liable as well. This means that anyone who suffers losses at the hands of a drunk driver can – and should – pursue a claim for fair compensation.
Will I Be Compensated If the Driver Is Convicted?
The distinction between criminal responsibility and civil liability is an important one, and it is one that most people do not fully understand. In North Carolina, causing an accident while driving under the influence is a crime. If convicted, drunk drivers who cause motor vehicle accidents can face fines, jail time, and other penalties. A DUI conviction can impact a person’s life for years to come.
However, criminal prosecution does not result in compensation for accident victims and their families. To recover damages, accident victims and their families must pursue civil claims separate and apart from the criminal justice process. This may involve suing the drunk driver, and it may also involve suing others who share liability for the crash.
Determining liability for a drunk driving accident requires a thorough investigation. Hiring an attorney who can walk you through the various practical considerations involved in deciding which claim (or claims) to pursue is critical.
Auto Insurance Covers Drunk Driving Accidents
While it will make sense to sue the drunk driver directly in some cases (more on this below), recovering compensation for a serious or fatal car accident injury typically involves dealing with the driver’s insurance company.
North Carolina law requires all drivers to carry 30/60/25 liability insurance. This means that drivers must have bodily injury liability coverage of $30,000 per person and $60,000 per accident, as well as $25,000 in coverage for property damage. At minimum, this coverage should be available to pay for damages you sustained in the accident – assuming that the drunk driver was insured.
Uninsured/underinsured motorist (UM/UIM) coverage is also required in North Carolina. This is coverage that protects the policyholder, the policyholder’s passengers, and members of the policyholder’s household. If you have UM/UIM coverage and the drunk driver either (i) doesn’t have insurance or (ii) doesn’t have enough insurance, then you can file a UM/UIM claim to help cover your losses.
In most cases, it isn’t necessary to sue after an accident. While recovering fair compensation for damages in a drunk driving accident is not easy, most accident victims and families don’t have to go to court because the majority of drunk driving insurance claims settle. That said, accident victims and their families need to be prepared to assert their legal rights and willing to go to trial if a fair settlement isn’t on the table.
Should You Sue a Drunk Driver Outside of Auto Insurance?
Now, what about suing the drunk driver directly instead of (or in addition to) dealing with the insurance companies? As mentioned above, accident victims and families can sue drunk drivers in appropriate cases. But, before committing to filing a lawsuit, it is important to make sure that it is worthwhile to do so.
This mainly involves investigating the drunk driver’s finances to determine whether he or she has sufficient assets to pay the damages that are owed. This is a step that requires the involvement of a law firm experienced in handling cases against drunk drivers.
What Should You Do If You Have a Claim Against a Drunk Driver?
With all of this in mind, what should you do if you are injured in an accident or lose a loved one in a crash caused by a driver under the influence? Right now, your priority should be to engage experienced legal representation.
Drunk driving accident claims can be very complicated. An experienced attorney can handle many of the challenges on your behalf, such as gathering evidence, determining liability for additional claims, calculating damages, and more. Hiring a lawyer to represent you and your family also improves the likelihood of recovering maximum compensation.
Drunk driving accidents are totally preventable. If you have been injured or a member of your family was killed due to the recklessness of a drunk driver, it is important to explore your legal options and take action to hold all parties accountable.
Please call the Whitley Law Firm at (919) 785-5000 today to speak to a drunk driving accident lawyer in Raleigh, Kinston, or New Bern. It won’t cost anything to see if we can help.