If you are involved in a DUI-related car accident, no matter which side of the case you might be on -- whether you have been injured by a drunk driver or you were the one who caused the accident -- it's usually a good idea to have an experienced lawyer on your side. In this article, we'll explain how a lawyer can help from both of these perspectives.
If you have been injured in a car accident caused by another driver, and that driver was drunk, he or she is going to be on the legal hook for all of your losses that can be reasonably connected to the accident. In the eyes of the law, this type of compensation is known as "damages", and there are several types that usually come into play.
"Compensatory Damages" are meant to replace your out-of-pocket expenses, such as medical bills and lost income resulting from the car accident. Additionally, you might be entitled to "General Damages", which compensate an injured person for any mental and physical pain and suffering. If alcohol is involved in the car accident, you may also be entitled to "Punitive Damages." This category of compensation is pretty rare in a car accident case, but punitive damages are meant to punish particularly egregious conduct and to make an example so that similar conduct is discouraged.
Most car accident cases end up settling out of court after the injured person files a claim with the at-fault driver's insurance carrier. But sometimes a satisfactory car accident settlement can't be negotiated and it becomes necessary to file a lawsuit.
If a drunk driver caused the car accident and your injuries, that driver would be an obvious party to be named in the lawsuit. But if alcohol is involved, other persons or parties may also be responsible. For example, if the drunk driver consumed alcohol at a restaurant or bar, and the driver was served alcohol before he got behind the wheel even though the driver was obviously intoxicated, the restaurant or bar might be legally liable, at least in part. In the case of underage drinking, depending on the laws of your state, the parents of the minor driver or the owner of the other car might also be responsible for damages.
Additionally, each state has very specific time limits within which you must bring a claim or lawsuit. Typically you have two or three years within which to bring a claim, but some states have a personal injury statute of limitations that is as short as one year. (Find your state's law in our Car Accident Laws section.)
If you were intoxicated while driving a vehicle and you caused a car accident, it is even more important to retain a lawyer. In that situation, it's usually a given that the district attorney or prosecutor will file criminal charges against you for drunk driving. This is called DUI (Driving Under the Influence) or DWI (Driving While Intoxicated).
If you are charged with DUI/DWI, most states have laws which impose punishment that includes hefty fines and maybe even some minimum jail time. This is often true even for a first offense. Depending on the state, the penalties can be much more severe. In addition to criminal penalties, each state also has what are known as "Administrative Penalties." For example, many states have regulations requiring the suspension or forfeiture of your driver's license if you are convicted of an alcohol-related driving offense. This is true even if you didn't cause a car accident.
In addition to the criminal and administrative penalties you may face, any person you injured in the car accident might sue you. This is called a "civil suit" and it is much different from the criminal charges filed by the local district attorney. While the criminal charges seek to punish you by imposing a fine or ordering incarceration, in a civil suit the injured person seeks monetary damages from you. Learn more about Facing an Injury Lawsuit After a Drunk Driving Car Accident.
Typically, if you were drunk and caused a car accident, your insurance company will hire an attorney to defend you in any civil lawsuit that is filed. However, generally speaking, the attorney your insurance company hires will not represent you in any criminal or administrative proceeding. So, you will usually have to hire a second attorney to defend you in the criminal case, and pay for that attorney out of your own pocket.