How to Recover From a Car Accident Involving a Drunk Driver
Drunk driving victims suffer some of the most tragic effects after an auto accident.
When someone chooses to drink and drive, they make a reckless choice that can harm even the safest of sober drivers.
The good news is Arizona is currently attacking the drunk driving problem on many levels, including preventing repeat offenders from taking the wheel under the influence.
This article is to help you find answers to the most common questions about accidents involving drunk drivers, and to help you and your loved ones find a path to healing and recovery.
Top Five Questions From Drunk Driving Victims
1. I was hit by a drunk driver, how does that affect my case?
Driving while intoxicated in a felony in Arizona. The drunk driver who hit you will be facing not only the civil claim you will be bringing against them, but also criminal charges.
Personal injury claims involving a drunk or drugged driver have some special features. When a driver is convicted for driving under the influence in criminal court, this can greatly strengthen a civil claim for damages caused by that driver. This is because the standard of proof is higher in criminal court than in civil court.
However, many insurance policies don’t cover injuries due to DUI or other criminal acts. So, paradoxically, a criminal conviction can make it harder for a victim to collect compensation for his or her injuries.
In addition to the compensatory damages available in any personal injury case, victims of drunk drivers may also be entitled to other forms of recovery — such as a lawsuit against the drunk driver.
If you wanted to find out whether you were hit by someone who appeared impaired, that information would be in the police report.
2. The drunk driver who hit me was only borrowing the car he was driving. Is he responsible for my injuries?
Yes, the drunk driver is still responsible. Other parties may be responsible as well.
These other parties could include the person who entrusted the car to the driver and any establishment that served liquor to the driver, if he or she was obviously intoxicated at the time.
The Arizona Dram Shop Law regarding intoxicated patrons at a bar will be discussed later in this article.
3. The drunk driver who hit me had numerous prior driving violations, what does this mean to my case?
If your case goes all the way to a jury, which is unlikely, the jurors may be more liable to award punitive damages if injuries are caused by a repeat offender.
You may be called to testify in front of a jury if your case goes to court.
4. Will the other driver be prosecuted?
If the at-fault driver is accused of committing a crime — such as driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol — that person will be prosecuted.
In some cases, a driver who breaks the law will be offered a plea bargain — a reduced sentence in exchange for pleading guilty and avoiding a trial.
The other driver’s lawyer may also be able to get the case thrown out before trial, for a variety of reasons.
To learn more about DUI penalties in Arizona, click here.
5. Will I need to testify against the other driver in a trial?
It is rare that a victim will be called to testify in the criminal case but it does occur. The Arizona prosecutor will rely on the blood alcohol test, the sobriety test conducted by the police officer and the police and detectives who investigated the crime to give evidence against the drunk driver to prove they were intoxicated while operating their vehicle.
If you are called to testify, you can learn how to prepare to testify, and what to expect here.
DUI Car Accidents: What Does the BAC Level Tell You?
The first step in a DUI case is assessing the injuries to you as the victim. Then you can determine the blood alcohol content (BAC) — or the degree of alcohol — in the at-fault driver’s body.
If the ambulance does not take the drunk driver, they have to participate in roadside sobriety tests. The officer should conduct these tests on the spot. Any sign that a person cannot complete them satisfactorily usually results in their arrest warrant.
Now, what happens if the driver refuses to participate in roadside tests after becoming a part of suspected DUI?
The answer is there is no chance an officer would allow that person to leave the scene, and they are typically immediately arrested. However, this begs the question why would someone who has just been pulled over choose a definite arrest over the chance of passing the field sobriety tests?
Roadside Breathalyzer vs. Blood Test
Like most states in the U.S., Arizona has an implied consent law. This applies to anyone who drives on the state’s roads.
According to this law, a driver consents to undergo tests to determine if they have been driving under the influence. Law enforcement would test the driver’s blood, breath, urine or other bodily substance.
However, this does not mean that a person must submit to a test just because they were the victim. A person is only subject to implied consent if they are placed under arrest for drinking and driving.
Once an officer believes that a driver was driving under the influence, and places the person under arrest, the implied consent law applies. It is at this point where some drivers still refuse to take a roadside breathalyzer test.
There are some reasons proffered by defense attorneys as to why their clients are reluctant to submit themselves to a breathalyzer and instead choose to have blood drawn. One such reason is they believe breathalyzer tests are unreliable. Another argument is that the results from blood tests should also be deemed untrustworthy, and should not be used to hold their clients accountable for driving under the influence.
Arizona Law on Taking a DUI Test
People who choose to drink and drive are now being told to wait as long as possible before submitting to any type of test.
This means that the test results may show a much lower blood alcohol content due to the time between arrest and the time of the test, even if the driver was over the legal limit at the time of arrest. By attempting to wait out the blood alcohol test or roadside breathalyzer, they are hoping to drop their alcohol testing.
Does it work?
Hard to tell. Our Phoenix police force certainly does not care for anyone who attempts to skirt the law. As a result, they would call on the drunk driving task force to immediately check those individuals, performing a breathalyzer and a blood test on the spot.
Criminal or Civil: What’s the Difference?
The relief available to help DUI victims depends on whether the remedies were decided in a civil or a criminal setting.
The Arizona criminal court system was designed to protect the public from future harm by punishing those who violate state laws. These proceedings act as deterrents to others against violating the laws. It is for this reason a reckless driver faces prosecution in a criminal court regardless of any damage.
Civil cases compensate victims of people who break the law for damages they incurred as a result of illegal behavior. While restitution is available to victims in criminal cases, the amount is usually not enough to cover the true extent of damages suffered by a DUI victim.
In a civil case, a victim may sue a drunk driver for property damages, medical bills, financial losses, pain and suffering, and emotional distress. These damages can be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.
The differences between criminal and civil courts does not only involve damages.
One important aspect victims of drunk drivers should keep in mind is the drunk driver will likely either plead guilty or be found guilty of a DUI in the criminal case. That information further strengthens the civil case proving the driver was negligent or reckless while driving.
Because Arizona is a fault state, proving fault is required to recover damages. Evidence from a criminal case showing a civil defendant confessed to — or was found to be guilty of — driving under the influence will help a victim prove fault for the accident.
What is Restitution?
A driver convicted of a DUI offense in Arizona may face jail time, fines, fees and restitution. Regarding restitution, the court system in a criminal case focuses on the victim rather than the drunk driver. Restitution is a sum of money the defendant pays the victim for his or her crime.
Restitution should not be confused with other types of damages that allow for payments for pain and suffering — these types of damages are only available in civil cases. However, a car accident victim may also bring a suit against a reckless driver in civil court to recover the full amount of damages.
Calculating and Collecting Restitution
The restitution amount — in addition to the fines associated with a DUI — is calculated by the court based on damages caused by the drunk driver. This amount likely includes the costs of repairing or replacing the victim’s car, lost wages, and any other monetary loss because of the drunk driver’s careless actions.
What many do not know about restitution orders is that the judgment cannot be discharged in a bankruptcy proceeding.
It may, however, be converted to a civil judgment and enforced via wage garnishment. The restitution order can even be used to extend a defendant’s probationary period by up to five additional years until the defendant pays the restitution amount. Additionally, the restitution order can even survive the death of a defendant and be enforceable against his or her estate.
Arizona law does not take restitution payments lightly. While a defendant will not be forced to pay more than he or she can afford each month, these payments will not cease until they pay the entire balance.
Restitution is one portion of the criminal sentence for a driver convicted of a DUI in Arizona. As Arizona’s DUI laws are some of the strictest in the nation — the criminal court imposes the sentence and the damages available to victims in a civil setting are high to deter future drunk driving.
Arizona Dram Shop Law: How To Sue The Bar
According to Arizona law, whenever a bar, liquor store or any place that sells or serves alcohol are subject to Dram Shop liability. This means anytime they sell or serve alcohol to someone who is drinking, and that individual subsequently hurts someone while driving, that business is also responsible.
Dram Shop Laws permit victims injured by an intoxicated person to seek compensation for their injuries from not only the intoxicated person, but also the vendor who provided alcohol to the already intoxicated person.
This means you can sue bar, the grocery store, convenience store and the liquor store for not protecting you from the intoxicated driver.
But is it just as easy as a lawsuit? No. You need to establish the four elements of a negligence claim: duty, breach, causation, and damages.
- Duty: the bar or shop has a duty to be responsible with the alcohol they serve and sell.
- Breach: in most cases, it is sufficient to prove the shop was aware the imbiber had consumed a too many drinks to drive safely.
- Causation: this is the most difficult part. It is not easy to prove it was the act of serving by the shop, rather than the act of drinking by the driver that was the cause.
- Damages: the result of the accident and how the victim was impacted.
Provided with enough proof and a strong case, it is possible to sue a bar or vendor for serving alcohol to an intoxicated customer, who subsequently gets behind the wheel and causes an accident. In those cases, the dram shop is liable for the victim’s damages.
Helping Drunk Driving Victims Heal
Victims of drunk driving accidents have an opportunity to heal and speak out against the crimes committed against them.
One of the tools that Arizona lawmakers use is victim impact panels.
Victim impact panels are educational tools used to both help victims heal and to prevent drunk drivers from further incidents.
The Maricopa County Probation Department, in cooperation with local chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, created the impact panel program in Phoenix.
They created the educational program helped the convicted people of drunk driving. The panel also helps victims navigate through the healing process by providing them with an outlet to share their grief and pain in a safe environment.
During a panel session, a group of three to four victims of drunk drivers talked about their accidents. They talked about the impact the accidents had on their lives. The offenders at fault for their particular accidents would not be present at their panels, so the victims feel safe telling their stories.
This would help other people realize the full impact of their decisions to drive under the influence. Some panels also allow for a question and answer period for offenders toward the end of these sessions. This also allows offenders to speak with a MADD representative.
We Can Help You Receive Both Criminal Restitution and Civil Damages
If you or a loved one was a part of a car accident due to someone else’s reckless decision to drink and drive, the attorneys at the Thompson Law Firm can help.
One call and we can answer any questions you may have about the steps you can take to recover after an accident.