Proving Liability After Getting Hit by a Drunk Driver

How to gather evidence for a successful insurance claim after being hit by a drunk driver. Get the compensation you deserve for your injuries.

More than a million drivers are arrested annually for driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, and that’s only a fraction of the 111 million self-reported episodes of drunk driving reported each year by American adults.¹

If you’ve been injured by a drunk driver, you have a right to expect compensation for your injuries, pain and suffering, and property damage.

But the at-fault driver’s insurance company won’t just hand you a fat settlement check. You’ll need to prove your claim.

Drunk driving cases progress the same as any other property damage or injury claim. The difference lies in the type of evidence you’ll need to establish liability.

How Drunk Driving Affects a Claim

Your claim to the other driver’s insurance company will be handled by a claims adjuster. As a general rule, adjusters are trained to settle your claim quickly for as little as possible.

So long as you gather the right evidence and show the adjuster you know what you’re doing, you can successfully settle your injury claim without an attorney.

The insurance company would rather pay you a fair settlement than end up in court. They know that a judge or jury will be very sympathetic to your injuries caused by a drunk driver. A verdict in your favor may be for a much larger amount than you’re currently demanding. This is powerful leverage you can apply during negotiations.

There are different levels of intoxication. Whether your state classifies the crime as Driving While Intoxicated or Impaired (DWI) or Driving Under the Influence (DUI), it all boils down to an accident caused by a driver who was drinking or using drugs.

Here’s the sticky legal part: Being drunk or high isn’t what makes the impaired driver responsible for your car crash. The accident was caused by the negligent actions of the driver, who was making mistakes because of the intoxication.

It helps to understand some common terms used by attorneys and insurance companies:

  • Negligence happens when a vehicle driver fails to act responsibly or does something no reasonable vehicle operator would do. For example, driving the wrong way on a one-way street.
  • Liability simply means responsibility. The at-fault driver or vehicle owner is usually liable for the accident victim’s damages.
  • Damages for car accident victims can include property damage, medical and therapy bills, out-of-pocket expenses, replacement services, consortium claims, lost wages, and pain and suffering.
  • Proximate Cause is an action that leads to an expected result, like an injury, which wouldn’t have otherwise happened.

Example: Negligence and Cause

Andy left a bar driving his sedan after having one too many beers. On the way home, he was too drunk to notice the light was red. As he drove through the intersection without stopping, he crashed into the side of Carol’s car, seriously injuring her.

In this example, Andy’s drunken state was technically not the cause of the collision. The cause was the negligent act of driving through the red light. Andy’s drinking caused him to operate his vehicle irresponsibly (by running the red light), which ultimately caused the accident.

Andy’s negligence was the proximate cause of Carol’s injuries, making Andy liable for her damages.

If you were the victim of a drunk driving crash, and the at-fault driver received a citation for an open container or was arrested for DUI or DWI, you’ll be in a strong position when negotiating your claim.

In drunk driving cases, the existence of an open container citation or a DUI should be all the evidence needed to convince the claims adjuster their insured was negligent.

Watch the Driver at the Crash Scene

If you’ve just been in a car accident with a potentially intoxicated driver, first call 911 to report the crash and ask for help. Tell the dispatcher your location, if anyone is hurt, and that you think the other driver is drunk or high.

When law enforcement arrives at the scene:

  • Tell the police officers if you smell alcohol or marijuana on the other driver. In the time it takes police to arrive at the scene, the driver may use a breath spray or otherwise try to hide the odor. If you alert the police about the smell, they may administer a field sobriety test.
  • See if the driver uses eye drops. He may be under the influence of marijuana, medications, or other drugs that are difficult to detect. Telling the officer you saw the driver use eye drops might prompt them to administer a drug test.
  • Watch to see if anyone from the other car tries to dispose of beer cans, bottles of alcohol, or drug paraphernalia. If you saw the other driver toss any such items, point it out to the police officers.
  • Make sure you know which person was driving. Another tactic used by drunk drivers is to switch places with one of the passengers who hasn’t been drinking. Alert the officers if you saw that happen.

Each state has specific requirements for drivers involved in a crash. Take advantage of our Car Accident Guides to check the laws in your area.

Gathering Proof of Impaired Driving

Gathering proof of drunk driving shouldn’t be difficult. Start by requesting a copy of the police report for your accident.

Police reports have a separate section for “contributory factors” where the investigating officer notes outside influences they believe contributed to the crash.

The officer will enter any of the at-fault driver’s actions that they determine caused the accident, such as running a red light, speeding, following too closely, or failing to yield.

The police report will list any tickets issued to the driver, and the reason a driver is arrested. The report will usually include the driver’s blood alcohol content (BAC) if the driver was tested on the scene or at the hospital.

A driver’s arrest for drunk driving is strong evidence of negligence, but a conviction is even stronger. Be sure to follow up on the driver’s arrest to confirm a conviction. You can contact the District Attorney’s Office and speak with the prosecutor assigned to the case.

When You’ll Need an Attorney

You can probably handle your injury claim on your own if you aren’t too badly injured and the at-fault driver carried enough insurance to cover your damages. Just remember that once you’ve accepted a settlement check and signed a release, there’s no going back.

Before your final settlement, if you have any questions about the value of your claim or the way the insurance company is treating you, you have every right to consult an attorney.

An experienced personal injury attorney will be able to secure evidence that would be hard for you to get on your own, such as alcohol or toxicology tests given to the at-fault driver at the hospital, the at-fault driver’s driving records, and other important information.

Your attorney can help you pursue compensation for severe injuries or fatalities from other sources besides the driver’s auto insurance. For example:

  • The drunk driver may have been covered under more than one insurance policy, like a parent’s policy or a company car policy
  • Money might be available from the estate if the at-fault driver was killed
  • Compensation may be pursued from the source of the alcohol provided to the drunk driver, like a bar or nightclub

Don’t settle for less. You have too much to lose by handling a complicated drunk driving case on your own. It costs nothing to find out what a good personal injury attorney can do for you.

Video: Liability in DUI Car Crashes


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