Drunk driver stopped abruptly, causing me to hit him...

by Catherine
(Birmingham, Alabama)

It was a rainy night and I was driving below the speed limit. I was wearing my seatbelt and was not texting. A driver in front of me stopped suddenly, presumably to turn to a dark private road, but he did not use any blinkers. I slammed my brakes (was going less than 35 mph in a 45) and turned my wheel to the right to avoid direct hit, but I hit my right bumper.

He was very intoxicated and arrested at the scene. But now my insurance company is saying that I am at fault. Any thoughts? I am shocked that this will be on my record for 6 years, increase my rates and probably nothing will happen to him. How can I be at fault when he was clearly drunk and stopped short? Is there anything I can do? Thanks.

Visitor Question:
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ANSWER for "Drunk driver stopped abruptly, causing me to hit him...":

Catherine (Birmingham, Alabama):

Alabama is a "no-fault" insurance state. This means in the case of a car accident, a driver must turn to his or her own insurance company to seek compensation for injuries arising out of a car accident.

However, no-fault insurance does not require drivers to turn to their own insurance company for compensation for property damage arising out of the accident. Drivers may pursue negligent drivers for property damage costs.

From the facts you present, it appears the intoxicated driver shared fault for the accident. Unfortunately, you may also have shared some fault.

Alabama Code Section 32-5A-89 (Following Too Closely) states:

"(a) The driver of a motor vehicle shall not follow another more closely than is reasonable and prudent, having due regard for the speed of such vehicles and the traffic upon and the condition of the highway. Except when overtaking and passing another vehicle, the driver of a vehicle shall leave a distance of at least 20 feet for each 10 miles per hour of speed between the vehicle that he or she is driving and the vehicle that he or she is following."

Under Section 32-5A-89, if you were traveling at approximately 35 miles per hour, you should have been a minimum of 75 feet behind the intoxicated driver. At 30 miles per hour, you should have been a minimum of 60 feet behind the driver.

Presuming you were traveling at a speed within the requirements of Section 32-5A-89, it could then be argued you had no liability for the accident. If that's the case, then your insurance company is wrong. However, proving you were traveling a legal distance away from the intoxicated driver will be extremely difficult.

Additionally, Alabama follows the "Pure Contributory Fault" Doctrine. For purposes of car accidents, pure contributory fault means if a victim in a car accident is even 1% at fault for the accident, the victim is barred by law from recovering any compensation from the at-fault driver.

In denying your claim, the insurance company is likely relying on Section 32-5A-89 of the Alabama Code and Alabama's pure contributory fault doctrine.

The above is general information. Laws change frequently, and across jurisdictions. You should get a personalized case evaluation from an attorney licensed in your state. Find a local attorney to give you a free case review here, or call (888) 647-2490.

Best of luck,

Judge Calisi

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