After most motor vehicle accidents, injured victims may seek damages from the negligent motorists who caused or in any way contributed to their wreck. What happens in a case against a drunk driver? If a driver was negligent because they were intoxicated at the time of an accident, the odds of any damage claims against that driver’s being successful become significantly higher.
Still, in spite of the favorable odds of having a successful outcome, vehicle accident claims against drunk drivers can become quite complicated — and sometimes contentious. If you were in a crash caused by a drunk driver, it can greatly help your case to have an experienced car accident lawyer on your side. Lawyers with experience handling personal injury claims against drunk drivers understand the evidence needed to get their clients as much compensation as possible.
What You Do After a Crash Involving a Drunk Driver Can Help Your Claim
The first thing you need to do after a crash is seek medical attention. If you are seriously injured, you’ll be taken to a hospital’s trauma unit and potentially be admitted. Even if you don’t feel you were seriously injured, see a doctor right away. Some injuries don’t show themselves immediately.
Law enforcement officers arriving at the accident scene will conduct field sobriety tests, searches & seizures, and/or blood, breath, or urine tests to then file a report that reveals whether the negligent motorist was under the influence of alcohol at the time of the wreck. If the driver is found to be under the influence, they will most likely be arrested at the scene. You can request a copy of the police report showing that the driver had been drinking.
When you’ve been in an injury wreck caused by a drunk driver’s negligence, you should also speak with a car accident attorney as soon as possible. An attorney can advise you about your options for getting compensation for your injuries.
As with other types of civil actions, there is a statute of limitations for filing a claim. To understand the exact deadlines that apply to your potential claim, speak directly to an attorney about your unique case. An attorney can also explain the relationship between a criminal action against the drunk driver and a civil action. Even if the drunk driver is being criminally prosecuted, you can still bring a personal injury claim against them.
How a Lawsuit Filed Against a Drunk Driver Will Typically Proceed
When you hire a lawyer to help you with your claim, they will typically begin the claim’s process by reviewing your initial medical treatment to assess the severity of your injuries, as well as injuries to any passengers in your vehicle. Your attorney will also want a complete download of the information you can provide from the scene of the accident. This can include:
- Insurance information for yourself and other drivers
- Photos of the vehicles involved and of the accident scene from various angles
- Statements and contact information for eyewitnesses to the crash
- What you remember about the accident, including how you believe it happened, what was said, etc.
Then your attorney will begin their own investigation. If you haven’t already gotten a copy of the police report, your legal team will obtain one. They will also get vehicle history reports, driver record reports, and other important information to prove negligence and help your case. Your attorney will also work with law enforcement investigating the alleged drunk driver’s illegal and negligent behavior. In general, if the defendant broke the law by driving drunk and injured someone, your case as the injured plaintiff usually becomes much stronger.
If the victim’s injuries were caused by the accident, the attorney will measure their “worth” and put together a demand package.
Your attorney also has access to a wide range of experts needed to assess the worth of your injuries to create the most reliable and most authoritative demand package. A demand package is the collection of all of your medical bills, employment and wage information and other documents that highlight your injuries and financial losses caused by the accident.
The demand package will be sent to the negligent driver’s liability auto insurer. Most accidents caused by drunk drivers end up in settlement because it is extremely challenging for drunk drivers to win in court, especially if they have been convicted of any criminal charges. Even without a criminal conviction, no more than 3% of drunk driving injury claims go to trial. Often insurance companies of people charged with drunk driving settle because they don’t want to take their chances in court.
Settlements are reached through negotiations with auto insurers. Experienced auto accident attorneys know how to aggressively negotiate with insurance company adjusters and lawyers and will generally work to get their clients the highest settlement amount possible that fairly covers their losses.
If a Fair Settlement Can’t Be Reached, Your Attorney May File a Lawsuit Against a Drunk Driver
Sometimes in spite of the best efforts of attorneys, fair settlement offers aren’t forthcoming. If this happens in your case, your attorney may counsel you about filing a lawsuit against the drunk driver who caused your accident. After filing a lawsuit, the case enters what can be a lengthy discovery and deposition phase. During this period, both sides request information from the other and begin taking the deposition of the relevant parties. These parties would include you, the negligent motorist(s), possible third parties who may also be liable (e.g. a “dram shop”), and any witnesses to the accident.
During deposition, the defendant’s attorneys will attempt to discredit and undermine your claim. They might assert that your injuries were not caused by the wreck, or are not as severe as you claim them to be. Depositions will be presented to the court, so it is essential to counter any attempts to cast doubt on you. Your car accident attorney will assist you through this process and also represent you in court, ensuring that the case is in good hands every step of the way.
Texas Dram Shop Law Compensates Drunk Driving Accident Victims
It’s not always only drivers who can be sued for negligence in drunk driving lawsuits. Under the Texas Dram Shop Act, bars and restaurants can also be held liable for selling alcohol to their drunk customers who then get behind the wheel and cause accidents. The person suing the bar or restaurant must prove that the driver who hit them was intoxicated to the extent of being a danger to themselves or others when they were served alcohol. So if a bartender or server at a bar or restaurant served alcohol to someone he or she “reasonably” believed was already intoxicated, the bartender, server, manager, and even the owner of the establishment can be sued for damages in what is called a “third-party lawsuit.” These parties can be sued in addition to the drunk driver of the vehicle.
What Happens in a Case Against a Drunk Driver as Far as the Damages You Can Claim?
As in any car accident case that was caused by negligence, you can ask for specific damages to repay you for your losses. How much in actual compensation you could get generally depends on how severely you were injured and the degree of negligence involved.
Typical damages in car accident injury cases include compensation for:
- Doctor, hospital, and other medical bills
- Lost wages if you have to take time off work to recuperate
- Lost earning capacity when your working ability is reduced because of injuries
- Pain and suffering for physical pain and emotional trauma.
Sometimes punitive damages may be awarded in drunk driving lawsuits. Punitive damages, which are also called compensatory damages, are meant to punish people for grossly negligent behavior and deter future similar behavior. Gross negligence is more difficult to prove than negligence, but with the help of an experienced car accident lawyer who understands the intricacies involved, it can be done. If gross negligence is proven, it can result in a significantly higher award amount.
File A Lawsuit Against a Drunk Driver with the Help of an Experienced Houston Attorney
A lawsuit filed against a drunk driver may seem like a simple process. After all, if the police have a breath or blood test that shows the driver was intoxicated when they injured you, it would seem your lawsuit should be pretty cut-and-dried. This isn’t always the case, though. Drunk drivers who are being sued will usually have representation by an attorney who understands how to poke holes in car accident lawsuits, even those involving crashes caused by drunk drivers. This means that victims of drunk drivers need to be carefully prepared in order to secure maximum compensation.
When you have the help of a skilled car accident attorney, you can be comfortable knowing that your case will be handled professionally and that your lawyer will fight hard to get you the best judgment possible.
If a drunk driver has injured you or any member of your family, you have the right to take legal action that is separate from the government’s criminal case against the drunk driver. You can seek full and fair financial damages from the drunk driver and everyone else who may have contributed to your injury accident.
Make an appointment for a free consultation with a drunk driving accident lawyer at the accident and injury law office of Terry Bryant today. Call our law firm at (713) 973-8888 or toll-free 1 (800) 444-5000, or contact us online to arrange your free consultation. We can explain the steps in what happens in a case against a drunk driver. Our attorneys will help you understand your legal options. We fight hard to get you the compensation you need when you have been the victim of a negligent drunk driver.