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Is a Criminal Conviction Enough to Win Your Civil Drunk Driving Case?

If you were injured in an accident with a drunk driver, you may already be aware that you could be eligible to seek compensation through either a claim with the drunk driver’s insurance company or through a personal injury lawsuit. The realization that the drunk driver has actually been convicted criminally of DUI is a hopeful sign that you will be able to obtain a settlement or award in your case. However, is that criminal conviction always enough proof to win the case? The answer to that question is: Usually, but not always.

Georgia’s Personal Injury Law in DUI Cases

In order to obtain an award from an at-fault party in a personal injury lawsuit in Georgia, negligence usually must be proven. Negligence hinges on three points:

  1. The at-fault party owed you a duty of care. In the case of a car accident, the duty of care from one driver to another would be to obey all traffic laws and to operate a vehicle in a safe manner.
  2. There was a breach in this duty of care. In the case of a DUI, the breach would be violating the state’s traffic laws pertaining to driving while impaired by alcohol or drugs, and any unsafe driving behaviors that resulted from being impaired.
  3. The breach caused the accident which resulted in damages to you.

In a personal injury DUI accident case in which the other driver’s impairment was the sole or major cause of the accident, the breach in the duty of care may be established with proof of any of the following, as reported through police reports, state lab results, or a criminal conviction:

  • The driver had a blood alcohol content of 0.08 percent or higher after a Breathalyzer test. The legal limit for drivers under the age of 21 is 0.02 percent. The legal limit for commercial truck drivers is 0.04 percent.
  • The driver refused a breathalyzer test and/or refused to submit to a urine sample.

The damages that you may seek to recover in a DUI car accident case include:

  • Medical expenses
  • Lost income for time away from work recuperating and traveling to medical appointments
  • Loss of future earning capacity
  • Loss of enjoyment of life
  • Loss of spousal or family companionship and support
  • Property damage
  • Pain and suffering
  • Punitive damages: Georgia law permits the awarding of punitive damages in cases where the defendant showed “willful misconduct, malice, fraud, wantonness, oppression, or that entire want of care which would raise the presumption of conscious indifference to consequences.” The law notes that these damages are not considered compensation for the victim, but rather damages designed to punish the defendant for his or her behavior.

Factors That May Reduce (or Eliminate) Your Award or Settlement

While it seems like a drunk driving personal injury suit would be an “open and shut” case when the other driver has been convicted of a DUI, there are some factors that may eliminate or reduce your award or settlement:

  • Comparative negligence: Georgia follows a “modified comparative negligence” rule. What this means is that you can only sue for damages in a personal injury case if you were less than 50 percent responsible for the accident that caused your injury. If you had up to 50 percent responsibility for the accident, you may still claim damages, but your award will be reduced by the percentage of blame you bear. For example, if the court determines that you are 40 percent responsible, then your award will be reduced by 40 percent. If the accident was entirely caused by your own negligence—such as speeding, running a red light, or disobeying other traffic laws—then you likely won’t be able to recover damages, even if the other driver was impaired.
  • Statute of limitations: The time limit in which to file a personal injury lawsuit in Georgia is two years from the date of the accident that caused your injuries. If you fail to file your lawsuit during that time, generally you will be unable to obtain compensation.
  • The drunk driver was not insured: Under Georgia law, all drivers are required to carry bodily injury liability coverage in order to compensate individuals injured in accidents they cause. However, some people drive without insurance. In these cases, the driver is personally responsible for the damages they cause and there are options to recover those damages through actions such as wage garnishments. However, recovering the damages from an uninsured driver can sometimes take a long time and the ability to do so may be seriously hampered by the driver’s employment status, finances, and other issues. Georgia law states that another possible resource for compensation in cases where the drunk driver was uninsured or underinsured is your own uninsured/ underinsured motorist policy, if you have one. An experienced personal injury lawyer can help you to understand all of your legal options in this situation.

An Additional Resource for Victims of DUI Accidents

The state offers an additional resource for compensation for victims of DUI accidents through its Georgia Crime Victims Compensation Fund. This fund was established in order to help ease the financial burden of crime victims by providing up to $25,000 to be used for:

  • Medical and dental expenses for injuries relating to the accident, including prescriptions and copays. Up to $15,000 may be provided.
  • Loss of income or support. Up to $10,000 may be provided.
  • Mental health counseling. Up to $3,000 may be provided.
  • Funeral expenses. Up to $6,000 may be provided.

In addition to compensation, the fund is also used to provide memorial signs for victims of DUI homicide on highways throughout the state. While funding for this program is made on a case-by-case basis, some of the general requirements include reporting the accident to the police within 72 hours; the victim’s exhaustion of all other forms of compensation, including auto and health insurance policies; the accident happened less than a year ago; and the victim either died or suffered serious injuries as a result of the accident.

Call an Attorney for More Information

Drunk driving accidents can result in severe injuries that may permanently alter your way of life. If were injured in an accident that a drunk driver caused, an experienced DUI accident attorney can help you understand the potential sources of compensation available to you.

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