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Liability for Drunk Driving Accidents

Despite the existence of harsh criminal penalties for driving under the influence, alcohol continues to be a major contributing cause of collisions, both in Virginia and across the country. For instance, there were 7,285 alcohol-related crashes in Virginia, in which 4,430 people were injured, in 2017 alone. Fortunately, it is possible to hold intoxicated drivers accountable when their decision to drink and drive causes an accident, so if you were recently involved in an alcohol-related collision in Virginia, it is important to speak with an experienced auto accident lawyer in Charlotte County who can help you seek compensation for your losses.

Pursuing an Out-of-Court Settlement  

In Virginia, drivers are required to carry minimum liability coverage of at least:

    • $25,000 for the bodily injury or death of a person;
    • $50,000 for the bodily injury or death of two or more individuals; and
    • $20,000 for property damage.

This can prove crucial for those who are injured in accidents with drunk drivers, as the at-fault motorist’s insurer will often attempt to negotiate an out-of-court settlement with the victim to avoid a civil trial. This does not mean, however, that victims should automatically accept any settlement offer made by an insurer. Instead, injured parties should be sure to assess a number of factors, including:

    • The severity of their injuries;
    • The degree of property damage resulting from the crash;
    • Whether a criminal court found the driver guilty of driving under the influence; and
    • Whether the injured party’s damages exceed the company’s liability limit.

Those who accept settlement offers will receive a lump sum payment from the insurer that is intended to cover medical bills and related losses. However, once a person accepts an offer, he or she will be barred from seeking further damages.

Pursuing a Civil Case 

If a drunk driver lacks insurance, an injured party’s losses exceed the driver’s policy limits, or the insurer refuses to offer a fair settlement, accident victims may want to consider preparing for a civil case. This in turn, will require that a plaintiff prove that the driver was intoxicated at the time of the accident and that his or her intoxication was the cause of the accident. Plaintiffs who are able to meet this burden can collect two types of compensation:

    • Compensatory damages, which reimburse injured parties for their medical bills, lost wages, property damage, and pain and suffering; and
    • Punitive damages, which are not necessarily designed to compensate victims for their losses, but instead aim to punish defendants for their reckless conduct and deter similar behavior in the future.

It’s important to note, however, that punitive damages are generally only awarded when:

    • The driver in question had a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.15 percent or higher;
    • The driver knew or should have known that driving drunk would significantly impair his or her ability to drive a vehicle; and
    • The driver’s intoxication was the proximate cause of the victim’s injury.

In most cases, the maximum amount of punitive damages that an injured party can collect is $350,000. Furthermore, while both compensatory and punitive damages are available to those who file successful civil claims, injured parties who choose to accept a settlement and so avoid trial, could end up being limited to compensation for medical bills, lost wages, and property damage, although some insurers are willing to include pain and suffering in their calculations. Punitive damages, however, will only be available to plaintiffs who officially file a claim in civil court.

Get Help with Your Accident Claim Today 

If you were injured in an accident caused by a drunk driver, you could be entitled to compensation for your losses, either through a settlement or civil proceedings. Please call dedicated Charlotte County auto accident attorney Herbert E. Maxey, Jr. at 434-969-4873 today to learn more.

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