Drunk driving refers to when a person operates a motor vehicle while they are considered to be legally intoxicated. While the exact number differs from state to state, a person is generally considered to be legally intoxicated if they have a blood alcohol content (“BAC”) of 0.08% or 0.10%.
When a person chooses to operate a motor vehicle after drinking alcohol or taking drugs that impair their senses, it can result in considerably serious legal penalties which will be further discussed. Some of the most common examples of such penalties include:
Generally speaking, a person who has been charged with drunk driving will receive a misdemeanor for their first offense. However, they can still be charged with a felony for their first offense if they have injured another person or caused damage to property because of their drunk driving.
It is important to note that drunk driving is considerably more serious than a simple traffic citation; it is considered to be a criminal offense. As such, if you are convicted of a drunk driving offense, it will appear on your criminal record.
What Are Some Common Drunk Driving Accidents?
Drunk driving accidents occur when a driver who is intoxicated crashes into another car or pedestrian. Because the driver is impaired at the time of the accident, these types of crashes can be especially serious. They may involve many people and can involve serious injuries or death.
Some of the most common examples of drunk driving accidents include:
A person who is driving while intoxicated may face criminal charges for drunk driving, as well as a civil lawsuit for any damage that they may have caused while driving drunk. A civil lawsuit is filed by anyone who was harmed by the individual driving while intoxicated. Because of this, if the defendant is convicted of drunk driving, it is easier for the plaintiff to win their lawsuit as opposed to if the defendant was not convicted. In general, a plaintiff brings a negligence action against the defendant under these circumstances.
Who Can Be Held Liable For A Drunk Driving Accident?
Essentially, any driver who is found to be driving while under the influence of alcohol may be held liable for drunk driving. This generally includes drivers of passenger vehicles, motorcycles, and other automobiles. Additionally, commercial drivers can be found liable for drunk driving. An example of this would be when a professional truck driver is found to be drunk while making a delivery.
Under specific circumstances, the employer of a commercial driver may be held liable if their employee is found to be drunk driving. This can happen under vicarious liability laws. Vicarious liability is the process of holding a person accountable for the actions of another person. Injured people who wish to hold employers accountable for the actions of their employees must establish the following three elements:
- The employee agreement required the employee to work under the direction and control of the employer;
- The employer had inherent authority to control the employee; and
- The employee’s actions are within the scope of employment.
A vicarious liability claim becomes more likely if the employer specifically instructed or encouraged the driver to drive while drunk. An example of this would be if their company policies allow drivers to drive while drunk.
How Can I Win My Negligence Claim For A Drunk Driving Accident?
To reiterate, a drunk driving accident lawsuit will generally be based on negligence. Negligence is a legal term describing when a person fails to act as a reasonable person would have acted in the same circumstances. The plaintiff must prove some specific elements of a negligence claim in order to win. These elements are:
- Duty: This element decides whether the defendant owed the plaintiff the duty to protect them from harm. In terms of drunk driving, this duty is generally to follow road rules by not driving while intoxicated;
- Breach of Duty: Once duty has been established, the plaintiff must show that the duty was violated or breached in some way. Here, the breach could occur once the defendant began driving while drunk;
- Cause: The plaintiff must prove that the defendant was the direct or indirect cause of their injury. Meaning, the accident is what caused the plaintiff’s injuries. In a drunk driving case, this is generally accomplished by examining evidence such as photos or video of the accident, as well as witness testimonies; and
- Damages: The plaintiff shows bills and estimates for the physical injuries that they suffered, and/ or any property loss. These losses must be calculable in order for the injured party to receive the damages award, such as medical bills.
Are There Any Legal Defenses For A Drunk Driving Accident?
There are some defenses to drunk driving that may be available to the defendant in a case involving a drunk driving accident. Examples include, but may not be limited to:
- Comparative Negligence: The plaintiff’s own negligence contributed to their injuries, which could limit or prevent their ability to collect damages. An example of this would be if the plaintiff was also driving drunk at the time of the accident;
- Lack of Injury or Damages: Measurable damages are necessary in order to succeed on a drunk driving claim. As such, if the plaintiff was not injured or did not suffer any losses, this could serve as a defense;
- Duress: If the defendant was operating the vehicle under duress, this could serve as a defense. An example of this would be if they were drunk driving under the threat of force from another person; and/or
- Involuntary Intoxication: An example of this would be someone “spikes” drinks at a party without the defendant’s knowledge, and they later drive.
What Are Some Penalties For Drunk Driving?
To reiterate, the penalties for drunk driving convictions will vary by state law as well as the severity of the crime. In addition to the previously mentioned penalties, some penalties for drunk driving include:
- License suspension or restriction;
- Loss of driver’s license;
- Prison time;
- Community service;
- Mandated drunk driving courses;
- Increased insurance rates; and
- The inability to work at a job that requires driving a vehicle.
If other crimes are associated with drunk driving, it will nearly always result in a harsher punishment. An example of this would be how if someone was seriously injured or died because of the actions of the drunk driver, there is a high probability that the driver will receive jail time. Additionally, if the drunk driver has prior drunk driving offenses on their record, they will generally pay higher fines.
It is important to note that if a person is employed as a professional driver, their employer has a right to be aware of the DUI conviction. The employer will also have the right to terminate that person’s job.
Do I Need A Lawyer For Drunk Driving Accidents?
If you have been involved in a drunk driving accident, you should consult with an automobile accident lawyer. Your lawyer can inform you of your legal rights and options according to your state’s specific laws, and will also be able to represent you in court as needed.