It’s estimated that more than 300,000 drunk drivers get behind the wheel each and every day in the United States. If you’ve been hit by a driver who was under the influence of alcohol, you are entitled to compensation. The driver is not only liable for the property damage, physical injuries, and the pain and suffering they cause, but is also subject to criminal prosecution in many cases.
Fault Determinations and Personal Injury Claims
Every state has its own insurance regulations and personal injury laws. These govern how fault or responsibility is assigned, which in turn determines who must pay damages. Damages can include medical bills, prescription drug costs, lost work time, loss of future earnings, pain and suffering, and property damage, to name just a few.
Proving fault is the cornerstone of a personal injury claim, whether filed only with an insurance company or through the civil court system as a lawsuit. With accidents that involve drunk driving, the establishment of fault is often relatively simple. A driver that operates a vehicle while intoxicated is clearly negligent and therefore liable for any damages.
Drivers Who are Over and Under the Legal Limit
While some rules of the road vary from one state to the next, blood alcohol concentration (BAC) limits are the same across the nation. A driver with a BAC of 0.08 percent is drunk.
The accident report and any breathalyzer or BAC test results may be all you need to document a driver’s negligence. Additional evidence can include statements from witnesses and photos of the accident scene, vehicle damage, and your physical injuries.
Police often interview witnesses and take pictures when investigating an accident, particularly when a crime like driving while intoxicated is involved. They should additionally take a statement from you and any passengers in your vehicle. It doesn’t hurt for you or your attorney to follow-up by taking other photographs and witness statements as evidence however.
A driver with a BAC lower than 0.08 percent may still be impaired enough that they are not capable of safely operating a vehicle, even though they are not legally drunk. You will have a more difficult task ahead in proving fault, but you can still win an insurance settlement or civil lawsuit against a driver whose BAC was under the legal limit.
Documenting Damages for a Personal Injury Claim
In addition to evidence that establishes fault, you’ll also need to document damages resulting from the accident. Some of these will be easier to prove than others.
Financial losses, for example, can be proven with:
• billing statements,
• property damage estimates,
• or paystubs that show lost work time or decreased pay while on medical leave.
Less tangible losses however, like pain and suffering or loss of life enjoyment, must be established in other ways:
• Claims of physical and emotional pain can be backed up with medical evidence, including prescription drug information, physical therapy reports, surgical notes, and counseling or therapy appointment schedules.
• If you’ve missed out on major events, like weddings, graduations, funerals, or a child’s first dance performance, your word is often sufficient, but an invitation or program from the event can also serve as backup documentation.
Many claimants keep a journal related to accident recovery and how their injuries affect everyday life. This can be beneficial for you from an emotional as well as a legal standpoint.
Filing a Personal Injury Claim Against a Drunk Driver
Like with any other auto accident, the first step in a drunk driving personal injury claim is to file with the insurance of the at-fault driver. You’ll issue a demand letter in which you provide the basis for starting settlement negotiations. In this letter, you outline all of the damages from the accident and the compensation to which you believe you are due.
If you cannot arrive at a fair settlement with the insurance company, then you may need to proceed to civil court with a personal injury lawsuit. A personal injury attorney can assist you throughout the entire claims process.
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