Drunk Driving and Wrongful Death Liability and Compensation

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Jul 16, 2021

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If you have lost a loved one due to the actions of a drunk driver, you are not alone. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), drunk driving car accidents claimed the lives of 11,773 people in 2008. Thirty-two percent of all traffic related deaths in the United States are caused by alcohol-impaired driving and one of every six traffic-related fatalities involving children is caused by a drunk driver. Even worse, among motorcyclists killed in fatal crashes in 2008, a disturbing 30 percent had a blood alcohol concentration of 0.08 percent or higher.

Filing Both Criminal and Civil Actions

Due to the nature of drunk driving accident cases, you will likely have to address both criminal and a civil matters. The drunk driver may face manslaughter charges and jail time, which gives momentum to a civil case. If the drunk driver had auto insurance coverage, you can file a civil action for wrongful death and for your own emotional damages and losses. In drunk driving accidents involving an insured at-fault driver, you can also file a claim for funeral costs and everything else associated with the loss.

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How DUI Laws Affect Damages

Your attorney will likely try to settle your case at a higher value, possibly with punitive damages, because of the DUI (driving while under the influence) element. Driving while under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or prescription drugs is a crime. Because DUI is a crime, complete intoxication is not required to be found guilty in drinking and driving accident cases. The level of alcohol or drugs in the driver’s body must simply be enough to prevent him from thinking clearly or driving safely.

State laws specify the BAC level at which a person is presumed to be under the influence. In most states, a BAC level of 0.08 is considered legally drunk. For teens, most states have a zero tolerance law. This means the discovery of even trace amounts of alcohol in the blood while driving can result in a DUI charge.

Further Legal Issues

It is important to look at other legal issues such as state laws regarding minors as passengers on motorcycles. For example, it may be argued that it is child endangerment for a motorcyclist to take a minor on the bike. It is also important to find out the limits on the insurance policy. However, insurers do not give out that information easily. For this reason, an attorney’s help is often needed.

The driver of the motorcycle may also have some liability for allowing the minor passenger to ride with him. The motorcyclist’s auto insurance policy may provide coverage, but it is possible that the insurer may refuse to pay if riding with a minor passenger was not within either the law or the policy. You will have to find out about your state laws and what is covered in the drunk driver’s policy. 

If all else fails, you may have the right to go after the personal assets of the drunk driver. While this is not recommended when other types of injuries are involved in drinking and driving car accidents, it may be appropriate here if insurance coverage is insufficient.

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