Drunk driving is never okay, yet there are motorists who still get behind the wheel after having a drink. Drunk driving is a serious criminal act and should never be taken lightly. If you have been injured or involved in a car accident with a drunk driver, you most likely would wonder how or if you could sue the driver. You do have options, but unfortunately, it is not as easy as it should be.
Drunk driving is illegal, and a drunk driver can be prosecuted in both a civil court and a criminal court. However, they are often complex cases; if you have been in a car accident with a drunk driver, you will likely need legal assistance of a skilled car accident lawyer. As there are about 14,000 DUI arrests per year in the District of Columbia, a drunk driving accident is not uncommon, and you should always be aware of drunk drivers on the road.
No-Fault Insurance Laws
You are able to sue a drunk driver, but in Washington DC, there are steps that must be taken before doing so if there are no other options. You may be able to file a civil suit against the drunk driver, which is separate from the criminal case they may be facing. Criminal cases are for punishing the driver, whereas civil cases are meant for the plaintiff to recover damages due to the accident.
However, Washington DC has no-fault insurance laws, which means that, regardless of fault, you file your claim for damages with your own insurance company. This includes medical bills, lost time at work and wages, and other related costs. You can also have an optional personal injury protection (PIP) coverage.
There are exceptions to the no-fault rule. You have 60 days to use the no-fault option following an accident, or you can file a personal injury claim. Choosing the no-fault option prevents you from filing a claim against the driver. However, if your medical costs exceed your PIP coverage and you had suffered a severe personal injury, you may sue the driver. Severe injury includes permanent impairment or disability that persists for six months or longer. If you have suffered a severe injury and the costs exceed your PIP coverage, you can file your claim with your PIP policy as well as a civil claim against the drunk driver.
Because of Washington DC’s no-fault law, there is likely a threshold to be met before suing the drunk driver. If the damages were minor and there are no severe injuries, you likely will have to file a no-fault claim to your own policy.
Contributory Negligence Fault
In Washington DC, if the plaintiff is found to have any responsibility for the accident, even if they were hit by a drunk driver, they may not recover any damages in a lawsuit. This is because the District of Columbia has a contributory negligence fault law, which states that you are unable to sue another person for an injury if you hold any degree of responsibility. For example, if a drunk driver hit you by going through a stop sign, yet you were found to be texting on your phone at the time of the collision, you may be found liable for the accident as well.
Drunk Driving Liability
Even though the drunk driver caused the crash, there are others who could be found liable for the accident. This includes the following:
- Dram shop. If a bar or establishment served a person alcohol and knew they were intoxicated or they appeared intoxicated, and that person caused an accident, the establishment can be held liable. They can also be held liable should they have served someone under the legal drinking age of 21.
- Negligent entrustment. This is when a plaintiff can sue a person other than the drunk driver who knew that the person was intoxicated and allowed them to drive.
- Employer. If the drunk driver was working at the time of the accident, the plaintiff may be able to sue the employer.
Wrongful Death Lawsuit
Wrongful death lawsuits are used when a loved one is killed by a drunk driver, and a personal representative files a civil suit on behalf of the loved one’s estate. It is used for family members who may be able to collect economic and non-economic damages from the drunk driver, whereas the court’s goal is to punish the drunk driver and deter any future incidents.
Spotting a Drunk Driver
If you are able to spot a drunk driver, you may be able to prevent a tragedy. Look for these signs of drunk driving and call 911 immediately should you spot any of these behaviors:
- Drowsiness, swerving in and out of their lanes
- Driving on wrong side of the road
- Driving on median, shoulder, or sidewalk
- Stopping for no reason
- Disobeying traffic law
- Quick acceleration and deceleration
- Abrupt or illegal turns
- Slow response to traffic lights and signs
In a drunk driving accident, you may need to prove that the other driver was intoxicated. This could be done through a police report following the accident, as the driver may be suspected of intoxication. If you see opened containers or smell alcohol on the other driver, notify the police immediately. You will want to tell the police if you spot other signs at the scene of the accident, such as slurred speech or imbalance. Furthermore, if the officer finds the other driver impaired, they will arrest the individual and charge them, giving you further evidence for your case.
Drunk Driving Prevention
Always be careful when consuming alcohol, and never drink and drive. Even one drink is enough to impair you and cause a car accident. Always use a designated driver or a ridesharing service if you do have a drink and give your keys to someone you trust. If you know of a friend or family member who has been drinking, make sure to get their keys as well. If you have people over and there is drinking, offer for them to stay the night and stop serving alcohol well before the end of the night, which will help people sober up.
Washington DC Car Accident Lawyers at the Law Offices of Duane O. King Help Those Injured by Drunk Drivers
If you or a loved one has been involved in an accident with a drunk driver, you may be entitled to additional compensation. Reach out to the Washington DC car accident lawyers at the Law Offices of Duane O. King for assistance. Our knowledgeable and skilled team has years of experience with drunk driving cases and will do everything they can to help you and your family. Call us today at 202-331-1963 or contact us online for a free consultation. Located in Washington DC, Alexandria, Virginia, and National Harbor, Maryland, we work with clients in Prince George’s County, including Laurel, Beltsville, Adelphi, College Park, Greenbelt, Mitchellville, Woodmore, Greater Upper Marlboro, Springdale, Largo, Bowie, Capitol Heights, District Heights, Forestville, Suitland, Seat Pleasant, Clinton, Oxon Hill, Temple Hills, and Fort Washington.