More than 10,000 people are killed each year in drunk driving accidents, and hundreds of thousands more are injured. Thankfully, heightened awareness of the dangers of drinking and driving, steeper fines and penalties, and rideshare options such as Uber and Lyft have helped to reduce these numbers over the years.
Of course, this is of little consolation to those who’ve lost a loved one or been injured themselves as the result of someone else’s negligence. If you or someone you know has been the victim of a drunk driver, Lowman Law Firm will help you receive justice and compensation for medical bills, lost wages, and the pain and suffering you have endured.
We are proud supporters of MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) and its mission to end drunk driving, help fight drugged driving, support the victims of these violent crimes, and prevent underage drinking.
What Is a DUI?
A DUI means “Driving Under the Influence,” and generally refers to drinking and driving. To be cited for DUI, a person's Blood Alcohol Concentration, or BAC, must be at .08 or higher – levels at which crash risk increases exponentially. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), alcohol at these levels can affect a variety of capabilities, including:
- Muscle coordination and speed control
- Information process and concentration
- Memory and perception
- Self-control and judgment
Because of these risks, DUI with a .08 or greater is illegal in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico (one exception is Utah, where the BAC limit is .05). BAC is measured with a breathalyzer, a device that measures the amount of alcohol in a driver’s breath, or by a blood test. Of course, even a small amount of alcohol can affect driving ability. In 2018, there were 1,878 people killed in alcohol-related crashes where drivers had lower alcohol levels (BACs of .01 to .07).
Keep in mind that a DUI isn’t limited to vehicles; drunk drivers behind the wheel of a golf cart, motorcycle, moped, or scooter – even a riding lawn mower – can also be convicted of a DUI. Another variation of the DUI, a drug DUI, can also be applied to those under the influence of narcotics, even over-the-counter drugs.
When dealing with a DUI accident where alcohol was a contributing factor, there are often additional issues that need to be addressed. If you or a loved one has been the victim of a drunk driving accident, do not hesitate to call and speak directly with one of our drunk driving accident lawyers.
DUI vs. DWI
DUI stands for “Driving Under the Influence,” while DWI is short for “Driving While Intoxicated.” While the abbreviations may be different, the commonality is that both are very serious offenses meaning that a driver was operating a vehicle or other motorized means of transportation while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. The usage of one or the other basically boils down to the state you’re in; Florida, for example, uses the DUI designation.
Some states use DWI as a different abbreviation, standing for “Driving While Impaired.” In these instances, “impaired” could mean alcohol or drugs or it could refer to sleepiness or other factors that could cause driving impairment. Regardless, the most important thing to remember is you never want to see either of these three letters on your driving record.
A few other states opt for other abbreviations:
- OUI: Operating Under the Influence
- OWI: Operating While Intoxicated
- DWAI: Driving While Ability Impaired
DUI Accidents in the United States
According to National Highway Traffic Safety Association (NHTSA) data, approximately 28 people in the U.S. die in a drunk-driving crash every day. While drunk driving accidents have decreased since data first stated being collected in 1982, a total of 10,142 people still lost their lives in 2019.
Here’s a breakdown of the types of vehicles involved in fatal alcohol-impaired accidents.
FATALITIES IN 2019
How Fault Is Determined in DUI Accidents
"A drunk driver hit me, it's their fault!"
While a drunk driver is usually 100% at fault in a crash, some DUI accidents are more complex, with both parties sharing part of the blame. Of course, when it comes to who will pay for the damages, including injuries and medical expenses, there needs to be a definitive answer.
Since it is illegal to drink and drive across the United States, if someone gets behind the wheel after consuming too much alcohol they are breaking the law before an accident even occurs and are therefore negligent. But are they automatically at fault? Usually, but not always.
It’s possible that the drunk driver, though negligent for driving, was not to blame. For example, say a sober driver runs a red light and hits a drunk driver who has the right of way. Despite the fact that the drunk driver should never have been on the road, the sober driver who ran the red light may not come out on top in court.
Courts take the totality of the circumstances into account when assigning fault, and in a case such as this, they may assign a percentage of blame to each party. The same goes for juries; they may consider the drunk driver 100% fault, or they could assign partial blame to the DUI victim for running the red light. When that happens, the damages the DUI victim may be able to recover could be less than expected. However, this is typically not the case.
Your Legal Options After Being Hit By a Drunk Driver
Although drunk drivers may face serious criminal charges, with penalties including restitution and jail time, they can also face civil liability. This can be tricky in no-fault states such as Florida, however, which is why it helps to have an experienced personal injury attorney at your side.
Insurance Claims and No-Fault Laws
Following a DUI accident in most states, it’s always best to try to collect money from the impaired driver’s insurance company by filing a claim against them in hopes of getting a settlement. Of course, some insurance companies may try to lowball accident victims, so it’s important to have a DUI lawyer who will negotiate the best settlement and go to trial if the offer is unacceptable.
However, in a handful of states including Florida, there is a no-fault rule. This rule requires drivers to carry their own Personal Injury Protection (PIP), usually valued at $10,000. Unlike in pure negligence states where drunk drivers are automatically subject to civil liability, no-fault laws require that a financial threshold is met before a suit can go forward. So, following an accident – regardless of who caused it – a DUI accident victim must first turn to their PIP coverage to pay medical bills, cover lost wages, etc.
If your PIP coverage isn’t enough to cover expenses, and your injuries meet your no-fault state’s definition of "serious injuries," you can pursue a liability claim or personal injury lawsuit against the at-fault driver. In Florida, for example, that means an injury that causes a substantial risk of death, personal disfigurement, permanent impairment, or extended yet temporary impairment (90+ days). You may also be able to step outside the no-fault system if your medical bills are simply too high.
Civil vs. Criminal DUI Cases
Most DUI cases are taken to criminal courts even if there are no victims in order to punish the driver and deter others from making the same mistake. If there was an accident, injury, or death, the court may order that restitution be paid to DUI victims. However, drunk driving accidents can be quite severe – impaired drivers often can’t react quickly enough to slow down before impact – and restitution may not be enough to cover a victim’s damages and medical expenses.
When this happens, and your PIP coverage has been exhausted, DUI accident victims can sue the driver for damages in civil court. Criminal and civil cases are treated separately, with the goal of a personal injury lawsuit always being to collect compensation for the accident victim.
Wrongful Death and Drunk Driving
If a loved one is killed by a drunk driver, you or their next of kin can file a civil suit for wrongful death on behalf of the loved one’s estate to ensure that family members surviving the deceased maintain financial stability. Economic and non-economic damages are available, and some states may allow punitive damages as well (amounts of money awarded to further punish the drunk driver and deter him or her, as well as the public, from engaging in this behavior in the future). A fatality resulting from a DUI accident would be considered a wrongful death case, not a DUI case. Read more about how we can help you with wrongful death cases.
Your Next Steps for a DUI Accident
Following a DUI accident, assuming you are out of harm’s way, there are a number of steps you should take for your personal and financial well-being.
1. Seek Medical Help
This is important no matter how minor your injuries may initially seem. An examination may uncover injuries that may not be apparent, such as organ damage or internal bleeding. Also, be sure to keep track of all bills and documents as this will provide evidence when trying to hold the liable party responsible.
2. File a Police Report
Florida law requires a police report if the damage to either vehicle was more than $500, injury occurred, and/or vehicle towing was required. Make sure that the police officer on the scene makes note of your injuries and other details; this report will be critical should you file a personal injury claim.
3. Document the Scene
Attempt to gather witness information and take photos or video of the scene, the vehicles, and license plates. Over time, memory fades, but this evidence will remain should you file a lawsuit. Was there any street surveillance footage? If so, make note of it so it can be obtained.
4. Keep a Log
If you were injured in a DUI accident, keep a written record of your pain and suffering. You may also want to attend the drunk driver’s hearings to understand what they are being charged with; you also may be called upon to testify or give a victim impact statement.
5. Avoid Social Media
You may be tempted to rant on social media about the negligence of the drunk driver, but insurance adjusters and attorneys routinely search social media sites and may look to see if you’ve said anything inconsistent, are engaging in activities that don’t support your injury claims, etc.
6. Hire an Experienced Attorney
DUI injury accidents can be very complex, especially in no-fault states like Florida. An experienced personal injury attorney can help prepare an adequate amount of evidence to support your case. Three things to look for when hiring a lawyer:
- Make sure they’re a personal injury attorney, not general practice.
- Make sure they’ve handled DUI injury cases in the past.
- Make sure they’re prepared for a civil trial.
Florida's Crime Compensation Act
The Crimes Compensation Act, or Victim’s Compensation Fund, may help ) may help you recoup losses you have sustained as a result of such a crash despite having PIP coverage. There are certain allowances for victims of DUI crashes in Florida, but you or your attorney must pursue them. , To be eligible, you must report the accident within 72 hours and apply for compensation within one year of the accident. You must have suffered an injury, have limited funds, and must not have been acting unlawfully at the time of the accident. Your lawyer can provide more information about potentially obtaining these funds.
Questions to Ask DUI Accident Lawyers
Getting ready to meet with your lawyer for a free consultation? Make sure you have some questions prepared. Here’s some to get you started.
What are your fees?
Most personal injury DUI accident lawyers work on a contingency fee basis, meaning if you recover monetary damages, the firm will take a percentage, typically 25-40%. In addition, some lawyers charge case-related costs (also known as “out-of-pocket” costs) so you’ll want to know if you’ll be responsible for paying these upfronts.
Have you handled DUI accident cases like mine before?
Don’t be afraid to ask a lawyer about their past experiences and results. You may also want to know how often they have reached a settlement and how often they have gone to trial, and what their success rate was.
How long does it typically take to resolve a DUI accident case like mine?
There are many factors that go into a DUI case, making some more complicated than others. However, your attorney should be able to give you a rough timeline.
Will my case go to trial?
A DUI settlement can be successful, but you want to hire an attorney who will be ready to go to trial if necessary.
How much can I recover?
An experienced personal injury lawyer should be able to give you a rough idea of what you may be able to expect to recover if you file a civil suit based on discovery, liability, the severity of injuries, etc. If they give you an outrageous DUI lawsuit payout amount, however, you may want to be wary that they’re simply trying to get your business.
Who will handle my case?
You want the best attorneys working for you; sometimes, you’ll meet with a senior partner but then be passed on to a less experienced associate. Make sure you know who will be your representative from beginning to end, and who their superior is should you need additional support.
What do I need to do in a lawsuit?
Some people want to be very active in their case, while others want to be hands-off and let their attorney handle everything. So, it’s important to understand what your lawyer expects from you to make sure they’re a good fit.
Contact Lowman Law Firm, Your Dedicated DUI Accident Lawyers
Lowman Law Firm was built on compassion and customer service. We’ll never treat your case like a number because we care about the communities we work in:
- Citrus County: Beverly Hills, Chassahowitzka, Crystal River, Floral City, Homosassa, Inverness, Lecanto
- Hernando County: Brooksville, Ridge Manor, Spring Hill, Weeki Wachee
- Pasco County: Dade City, Land o’ Lakes, Lutz, San Antonio, St. Joe, Wesley Chapel, Zephyrhills
If you or a loved one has been the victim of drunk driving, we will be committed and invested in your case from your initial consultation until its resolution. As our client, you’ll also have our full attention, meeting in person with us or by calling, emailing, and texting.
With our combined experience and expertise, our entire law firm is committed to getting you the best possible results for your DUI accident.