Injury Lawsuits Against Drunk Drivers

Car Accident Lawyer Atlanta, GA

The Indiana Court of Appeals recently upheld a $21 million verdict against a drunk driver in a serious accident the drunk driver caused. Whether insurance can cover the entire verdict is unclear. It is clear, however, that juries will often send a message when a drunk driver causes a wreck.

Anatomy of a Drunk Driving Crash

Gregory Smith and Nolan Clayton worked together at a sports bar. After several hours of off-duty drinking together, Smith and Clayton realized that they were in no shape to drive. They thought about calling a ride-share service, but Clayton was unable to make his app work.

A bar employee asked the two men to leave. Since they were incapable of walking steadily, the employee called them a cab. By the time the cab arrived, however, Clayton was driving away in Smith’s truck. Smith was in the passenger’s seat. Neither man could recall how it was that Clayton came to drive Smith’s truck.

A few minutes after he started driving, Clayton crashed the truck into a tree. Clayton suffered no serious injuries, but Smith’s neck was broken. Smith will spend the rest of his life as a quadriplegic.

An hour after the accident, Smith’s blood alcohol concentration was 0.245. About two-and-a-half hours after the accident, Clayton’s blood alcohol concentration was 0.208. Since alcohol would have been eliminated from Clayton’s system after Clayton stopped drinking, Clayton’s blood alcohol content was probably higher at the time he was driving.

Drunk Driving and Traffic Accidents

The “legal limit” in every state is a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08, but a BAC of 0.08 does not mean that a driver is non-functioning. Rather, states set that limit based on studies that suggest most drivers will be impaired, in the sense of having slower reaction times, when they reach a BAC of 0.08.

Most alcohol-related traffic accidents, on the other hand, are caused by drivers who are far beyond the legal limit. Drivers who cause wrecks while drinking typically have a BAC of 0.15 or higher. No one, no matter how high their ‘tolerance,’ can safely operate a vehicle with a BAC that high.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that one person in the United States dies every 50 minutes in a wreck with an alcohol-impaired driver. About 28% of all traffic accident deaths are caused by drunk driving.

Public education programs have sharply reduced the rate of impaired driving during the last thirty years. Drunk driving crashes still claim more than 10,000 lives every year. And crash survivors, if there are any, often must live with catastrophic injuries.

Comparative Fault

Most states have laws that address something called comparative fault. While the details of those laws vary from state to state, it is typically true that someone who is less at fault can recover damages from someone who is more at fault, although the recovery will usually be proportionate to the comparative fault of the negligent parties.  For comparative fault, a party who is 60% at fault for the victim’s fault is responsible for 60% of the total damages.

Drunk Driving Injury Compensation

Going back to the Gregory Smith and Nolan Clayton case, the jury there awarded Smith $35 million in compensatory damages. The jury awarded no punitive damages. Unlike compensatory damages, punitive damages are meant to punish someone who causes harm. Punitive damages are not allowed in most accident cases, but most states will permit a jury to consider awarding punitive damages against drunk drivers.

The jury found that Smith was partially responsible for the accident, presumably because he decided to be a passenger in a vehicle driven by someone who was obviously drunk. The jury decided that Clayton was 60% at fault. Under Indiana law, Smith was allowed to recover 60% of the damages that were awarded, or $21 million.

Insurance Coverage Issues

Issues involving insurance coverage and comparative negligence raise difficult questions, and a drunk driving case can be even more difficult to navigate. An experienced car accident lawyer Atlanta, GA trusts at Butler Law Firm can help victims of drunk drivers bring claims in ways that maximize their recoveries.