Driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol (DUI or DWI) is a serious crime with severe legal penalties—and rightly so, as intoxicated driving accidents destroy lives and shatter families. Criminal prosecution can take drunk drivers off the road, and that’s a great benefit to society. But when you’ve been involved in an accident with a drunk driver, knowing that the driver faces criminal charges is small comfort; you’re left picking up the pieces of your life as medical bills and other costs pile up in the aftermath.
You might be convinced that the Texas justice system will sort everything out—eventually—and see that everyone gets what he or she deserves. Bad news: it just doesn’t work that way.
The Shocking Gap in Our Justice System
When a drunk driver’s reckless behavior causes a serious traffic accident, that hurts the interests of at least two different parties: the state, and the person (or people) injured in the wreck. The interests of those parties are very different.
The state doesn’t want to see its laws broken with impunity. Punishing the intoxicated driver will affirm the rule of law in Texas and may deter other potential drunk drivers in the future. So police, prosecutors, and the other agents of the criminal justice system will work together to arrest, convict, and appropriately punish the drunk driver. If you were the person hurt in the crash, then you may be asked to testify in this criminal case, and you may get some satisfaction seeing a bad driver fined or sentenced to jail.
What you won’t get, though, is any direct help for your own condition.
Even if the driver is found to be guilty of a criminal offense, that doesn’t mean that you will automatically receive any sort of compensation. However, as a victim, you have legal options available to seek financial compensation for your injuries. Ultimately, you have the right to seek fair compensation in civil court for the harm that has been done to you. That legal right gives you powerful leverage in negotiating with the drunk driver and his insurance company in order to get a fair settlement without going to trial.
Dealing With Insurance After a DUI Wreck
Insurance companies are notorious for being stingy with settlement offers. You can’t expect that the drunk driver’s insurance adjuster will be eager to hand over a check to cover all your losses.
However, you may have a stronger hand to play when a DUI charge is involved, especially if the other driver has been found guilty of criminal charges. Juries do not find drunk drivers to be sympathetic defendants. That gives the insurance company a somewhat greater incentive to offer a meaningful settlement before things progress to the courtroom. But you can’t count on that edge, especially if you’re trying to handle your case on your own; insurance adjusters think injury victims without lawyers are easy prey.
Your lawyer can help you with the settlement negotiations before the case reaches the courtroom. If the insurance company simply isn’t willing to offer a settlement that you think is fair, it’s time to file a lawsuit.
Your Potential Recovery From a Formal Injury Claim
You can use a personal injury lawsuit to seek monetary damages for losses incurred as a result of the accident, including:
- Hospital bills and other medical expenses.
- Rehabilitation costs, such as physical therapy and mental counseling.
- Continual medical care costs resulting from your injuries.
- Lost wages due to the inability to work while recovering.
- Repairs or replacement cost to your vehicle or other damaged personal property.
- Nonmonetary damages, such as the pain and suffering you experienced.
If you lost a loved one, a wrongful death lawsuit may be legally viable, too. But a key first step in filing any lawsuit will be identifying the person or organization who is really at fault for the drunk-driving crash. It may not be the person you expect.
Two Complications in Determining Liability
The drunk driver is one potential liable party, but there are situations in which there may be other parties who can be pursued for compensation. Texas is one of many states that have dram shop laws that may be used to hold a business liable for a drunk-driving wreck. These laws hold bars, restaurants, and other alcohol-serving venues partially responsible if they continue to serve someone who is obviously intoxicated and who may pose a danger to himself or others.
In determining liability for damages after an accident, Texas uses modified comparative negligence laws. Comparative negligence means that fault may be assigned as a percentage to each party involved in the lawsuit, and awards are based off of that amount. Liability may be divided between multiple plaintiffs (such as the drunk driver, the bar or restaurant, or others involved in the crash) by percentages.
If the victim is found to be partially responsible for the accident, a percentage of fault will also be assigned, and the total award will be reduced by that amount. For example, a restaurant may be found twenty percent liable for over-serving, the drunk driver seventy percent liable, and the victim ten percent liable. Even though the jury determined that the victim had some part in the accident, he is still allowed to recover damages, but the total award will be reduced by ten percent for the his role in the accident. The “51% bar rule” applies in Texas as well, which states that no party determined to be 51% or more liable is eligible to recover any damages at all.
Getting Help After Your Accident
If you’ve been injured or lost somebody that you love as a result of a drunk driver, the best thing you can do is contact a personal injury attorney immediately to discuss your legal options. Your lawyer will help you decide the best course of action to help you seek the compensation that you deserve after your losses.
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