As you slowly regain consciousness on the ambulance stretcher, you begin to realize the extent of your injuries. You can't feel your legs, for starters, and the paramedics tend to your wounds and check for signs of a concussion. After you reach the hospital, you're told that you were broadsided by a drunk driver.
While you're lucky to be alive, you're also aware of the long road ahead toward recovery. Your mind then wanders to the high cost of hospitalization and ongoing therapy, all while being unable to work. How will you make ends meet after this type of car crash?
The short answer is that insurance should cover most, if not all, of your financial losses, including lost wages. If there's no doubt that you were hit by a drunk driver, an injury settlement will likely be pursued instead of a trial. But to be properly compensated, you'll want to understand:
- The insurance laws in your state
- The limits of insurance policies
- The impact of no-fault insurance laws
Hit by a Drunk Driver? Don't Settle Right Away
Regardless of the circumstances of your drunk driving accident, make sure you fully assess your injuries and property damage before settling. The at-fault driver's insurance company may try to:
- Pressure you into an early car accident settlement
- Close the case as quickly as they can
- Keep their payout as low as possible
However, a seemingly minor accident may cause serious injuries that aren't immediately apparent.
After agreeing to a settlement, you may be asked to sign a release of liability form. This will bar you from any further injury claims pertaining to the incident, no matter how severe. So, keep records of your financial losses (medical costs, lost wages, etc.). Wait until your condition has stabilized before entertaining settlement offers.
You also have much more leverage if you seek a settlement after the other driver has been convicted of, or pleaded guilty to, driving under the influence (DUI). This is because the burden of proof for a criminal hearing, like a DUI case, is much higher than in a civil hearing, like a car accident case. So, if the defendant has already lost in a criminal case, then your burden of proof necessary to establish the defendant's liability will be easy to meet by comparison.
The insurance company would rather not resolve the matter in front of a judge and jury. They likely would be very sympathetic to a plaintiff injured by a convicted drunk driver (although, some states' courts don't allow "no contest" DUI pleas to be entered into evidence in civil cases—they are not technically admissions of guilt).
Just keep in mind that there are limits to how much an insurance company will pay, often in the $50,000 range. So, if your damages exceed your state's statutory minimum amount of insurance and the defendant's insurance only meets that bare statutory minimum, you may need to file a civil suit. If there are multiple injured parties making claims against the same drunk driver, available coverage could be much lower for each party, depending on the drunk driver's insurance policy limits.
Fault vs. No-Fault Insurance Laws
About a dozen states have what are known as "no-fault" auto insurance laws, including Florida, New York, and Pennsylvania. In these states, your own insurer is responsible for covering your injury claims, not the at-fault driver's policy, unless the claims exceed a certain threshold. States have different monetary limits for injury claims, often referred to as personal injury protection (PIP) claims. However, your PIP policy typically has its own monetary limits.
This means you may come up short if you're filing a claim in a no-fault state. But don't despair. All no-fault states allow injured accident victims to pursue additional claims against the at-fault driver under certain circumstances, such as:
- Having suffered "serious" injuries (typically some degree of permanent loss of function)
- Exceeding a certain cost threshold (as defined by state law)
For example, if your expenses exceed New York State's $50,000 limit or you've permanently lost partial function of your arm, you may sue the at-fault party.
Below, we will answer some of the most commonly asked questions that pop up after a drunk driving accident.
Q: What is the role of a personal injury lawyer in a drunk driving accident case?
A personal injury lawyer can provide you with legal representation if you've been physically or emotionally injured as a result of the negligence of the drunk driver. A lawyer can:
- Walk you through the legal processes
- Help estimate the full extent of your damages
- Negotiate with insurance companies
- Represent you in court
Q: What types of compensation can I claim after a car accident?
Compensation in a drunk driving car accident claim can cover your economic damages, such as:
- Medical bills
- Lost wages
- Your compensation can also cover non-economic damages, such as:
- Pain and suffering
- Emotional distress
- Loss of enjoyment of life
In some cases, punitive damages may be awarded to punish the at-fault party and deter similar behavior by others in the future.
Q: How is the average settlement amount calculated in a drunk driving accident case?
The average settlement amount is calculated based on:
- The severity of your injuries
- The extent of your property damage
- The impact on your quality of life
- The duration of medical treatment
- The amount of lost wages
Every case is unique, so settlement value can greatly vary.
Q: What are the consequences of a drunk driving case for the at-fault party?
In a drunk driving case, the at-fault party can face both criminal and civil consequences. Criminal charges can lead to:
- Jail time
- Civil consequences, on the other hand, can include financial liability for your:
- Medical expenses
- Property damage
- Pain and suffering
Q: How does an insurance claim work after a car accident?
After a car accident, your attorney will contact the at-fault party's insurance company to file a claim. The insurance adjuster will investigate your claim and review the police report, medical records, and any other relevant documentation to determine the settlement amount.
Q: What are the potential challenges in dealing with insurance adjusters?
Insurance adjusters work for the insurance company, and their main goal is to minimize the company's payouts. They might try to deny your claim, argue that your injuries aren't as severe as you have claimed, or try to rush a settlement before the full extent of your injuries and expenses are known.
Q: How soon should I seek medical treatment after a drunk driving car accident?
Seeking immediate medical treatment after a drunk driving car accident is critical, not only for your health but also for your personal injury case. You need medical records to serve as evidence of your injuries, their severity, and the cost of treatment. This evidence is all taken into consideration when determining your settlement amount or jury award.
Q: How does insurance coverage work in no-fault states?
In no-fault states, each driver's insurance covers their own injuries and damages, regardless of who caused the accident, up to a certain limit. However, if the expenses exceed this limit or if the injuries are considered serious, the victim can sue the at-fault party for additional compensation.
Q: Why do I need an experienced attorney after a car accident?
An experienced attorney can help you with the complexities of the legal and insurance processes, negotiate a fair settlement, and advocate for your rights. Without a lawyer, you might miss out on potential sources of compensation or be unsure of your rights and options following the accident.
Hit by a Drunk Driver and Looking To Settle? Get a Car Accident Lawyer's Help
As you can see above, settling a car accident claim involving bodily injuries can get quite complicated, especially when you consider the complexity of insurance limits and the importance of properly timing the settlement.
To get the best possible compensation for your auto accident, you and your loved ones may want to get legal advice from an injury attorney. Get started today by contacting a local motor vehicle accident attorney.
Remember, there is a statute of limitations on drunk driving cases. This means you have a limited amount of time to seek reimbursement for your medical care and emotional distress.