Who Is at Fault?
This may seem like an obvious question: the drunk driver whose careless driving caused injury to another is, of course, at fault. However, others may be legally accountable as well.
For instance, if the drunk driver was a minor, or was served alcohol while visibly intoxicated, you may have a cause of action under the Illinois Dram Shop Act against the bar, restaurant, or club which served alcohol to the driver. Dram Shop cases are subject to certain limitations- including time limits and liability caps.
If the drunk driver was in the scope of his employment at the time of the accident, you may also have a cause of action against his or her employer. This is what is referred to as “respondeat superior” or “vicarious liability.”
There may be others who share responsibility as well, which is why it is important to speak with an attorney experienced drunk driver injury lawyer.
In many cases, the victim of a drunk driver can recover what are knows and “economic” and “noneconomic” damages. Economic damages are concrete, out-of-pocket costs: past and future medical bills, lost wages, decreased earning potential, and others. Noneconomic damages are less concrete, including things like emotional distress, pain and suffering, humiliation, loss of reputation, and even, at times, inconvenience.
The rights of drunk-driving victims extend beyond those of typical personal injury plaintiffs, as well. In most cases, drunk driving is not simply negligent – it is reckless or intentional. On this basis, the victim of a drunk driver can often seek and recover punitive damages – an award by the jury above and beyond economic and noneconomic damages, designed to punish the drunk driver and to deter others who might otherwise drive drunk.
You may also be able to recover under your own auto insurance policy under what’s referred to as uninsured motorist (UM) or underinsured motorist (UIM) coverage, in the event that the drunk driver is either uninsured or has an inadequate insurance policy.
What to do After the Accident
Many of the most important steps in pursuing legal action against the drunk driver who injured you should take place before you have had a chance to speak with a top car accident attorney like those at Passen & Powell.
First and foremost, after an accident you should seek medical attention immediately. Some very serious injuries – including traumatic brain injury, neck injuries, and spinal injuries – can have symptoms that may develop immediately, or may take days to develop. Likewise, psychological injury from the crash, such as anxiety problems, fear of driving, and depression, can take days, weeks, or months to develop. If you experience these problems, seek medical attention.
Second, preserve any evidence of the crash. Get the driver’s contact information, insurance information, and vehicle information. Even if the drunk driver admits liability at the time of the accident, you can expect him or his insurance company to contest liability later. So, take down the name (double checking the spelling) and phone number or numbers of every person who saw the accident – do not rely on the police to do this for you.
Third, preserve evidence of your injuries and damages. Take pictures of any visible injuries, both initially and as they heal. Take pictures of your car, before it is repaired. If possible, take pictures of the other car, as well. And, if you were a pedestrian or cyclist struck by a drunk driver, take a picture of yourself at the accident site in the clothing you were wearing, and preserve your clothing in its original condition
Finally, report the accident to the proper authorities and to your insurance company. Do not, however, discuss the accident with an insurance adjustor for the drunk driver. An insurance adjustor is not an independent investigator – it is her job to try to defeat your claim. The best and easiest way to prevent this is to decline to speak with her. Additionally, do not sign any forms for the driver’s insurance company, including medical authorizations – you are not legally obligated to do so, and signing is almost never in your best interest.
These tips and information can help to get you started. But it is only a start. If you or someone you love was injured by a drunk driver, you will also need to speak with an experienced attorney, as soon as possible. Your attorney can counsel you on your options, help you decide how to proceed, and ensure that you do not miss key deadlines for the claims you want to file – often a key point in drunk driving cases.
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