Can I Sue a Drunk Driver for my Injuries in Georgia?
Under Georgia DUI laws, you can sue a drunk driver for your injuries and they can be held liable and responsible for accidents and damages they cause. However, proving an at-fault driver was DUI takes more than just a police officer’s arrest and report. If you have been in an accident with an alleged drunk driver, you need an attorney who knows the ins and outs of Georgia traffic and DUI laws to help ensure that you get the most money for your injury and accident claims after a wreck.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, one person every 50 minutes dies at the hands of a drunk driver in the United States, with drunk driving accidents claiming the lives of more than 10,000 people annually.
Here in Georgia, getting hit by a drunk driver is not just a simple “accident.” It is considered a conscious and purposeful decision when a driver consumes alcohol and drugs and then gets behind the wheel of a car. Driving while under the influence is a criminal offense and rises to the level of criminally reckless conduct. Because drunk driving offenses are taken seriously here, they fall into a specific classification of personal injury claims. Auto insurance companies are also on the hook for their driver’s DUI-related accidents. With that said, the insurance companies will fight all aspects of the case against their driver, including whether or not they were legally at-fault for the accident, and the nature and extent of any damages and injuries you may have sustained.
If you have been hit by a drunk driver, you can take critical legal steps to ensure that driver is held accountable for your injuries.
What is Considered a Criminal DUI Offense in Georgia?
DUI laws in Georgia prohibit someone from driving either with a blood alcohol level of .08% or greater (this will be different if the driver is operating a commercial vehicle or under the age of 21), “under the influence” of any alcohol, drug, or other controlled substance, including marijuana, to the extent they are a less safe driver. To put it simply, if alcohol or a drug- even a prescription drug- make you less safe to drive, you can be charged with driving under the influence in Georgia and held both criminally and civilly responsible.
The penalties for a criminal DUI in Georgia are severe and will involve fines, community service, DUI school, substance abuse evaluation, potential license suspension, and even jail time. But a criminal conviction does nothing to help someone who has been seriously injured in an accident caused by that driver’s recklessness.
Your Right to Recover Money from a Drunk Driver
If you have been injured in an accident caused by a drunk driver, it is important to properly investigate the accident, police reports, and any available arrest videos before engaging in serious conversations with the insurance companies at play. Our Team knows exactly how to obtain all available accident and incident information through the use of Open Records requests and other means when we begin working on your file. When we have a solid foundation, then and only then would we begin conversations with any insurance companies that maybe forced to cover your injuries and bills from the accident.
While we examine the underlying facts of your accident and set the right tone with insurance companies, your only job is to work on getting yourself better. Even if you are uninsured, we can often assist in finding providers to work with you to ensure you get the highest level of care and treatment while your claim is pending. If you have a serious injury from the accident, it will take time to really know the full scope of the damages done- and we will remain on your team for the entire time. Treatment and recoveries cannot be rushed, or the probability of lifelong problems from your accident increases even more. Part of our job is to keep the insurance companies aware and up-to-date of your treatment status, and we will certainly do so.
A vast majority of DUI related cases are able to settle without a jury trial, but, sometimes, and for various reasons, a lawsuit must be filed and trial pursued.
Pursuing a DUI Civil Lawsuit
In order to bring a DUI civil lawsuit against the party who hit you, one of the following must be established:
- The driver had a blood alcohol level of .08 or higher on a breathalyzer test. (this is called a DUI per se charge in Georgia, and can be shown be either a blood or breath sample from the driver, usually within 3-hours after the accident)
- The driver refused a test and/or failed to submit a blood or breath sample. (this is called a DUI less safe charge, where is arresting officer’s opinion is that the person was impaired and less safe to drive based on their alcohol, drug, or prescription drug consumption)
- The driver was under 21 with a blood alcohol level of .02 or higher. (This is a DUI per se charge as well)
- The driver was operating a commercial vehicle with a blood alcohol level of .04 or higher. (This is a DUI per se charge as well, so long as the accused driver was operating a commercial motor vehicle at the time of the accident)
The totality of the other driver’s DUI arrest may also become relevant in your civil case. Field sobriety tests like the horizontal gaze nystagmus test, walk and turn, and one leg stand may all be used to show impairment for purposes of your claim. Ultimately, the better of an investigation the officer does at the time of the accident, the more robust your claim will be against the at-fault driver. However, recovering damages in these cases is not 100% dependent on the officer’s investigation. Other sources, like hospital medical records, can also be used to show a driver was DUI.
What DUI-related injuries and damages can you recover?
A civil lawsuit will compensate you for “economic” and “non-economic” (general and special) damages sustained in the accident. These can include
- Your medical costs, including emergency care, surgery, doctor visits, special medical equipment, imaging tests, physical and occupational therapy, specialized nursing care, and any other costs related to your injuries- so long as the expenses were “reasonably” necessary
- Potential future medical care as it relates to your injuries- which can be many times the cost of your initial treatment and last years
- Lost wages if you have lost time from work- with proper records and documentation, we should be able to recovery money that you lost through not being able to work like you did before the accident
- Lost earning capacity if your injuries make it impossible for you to return to your former career
- Personal property damages- including your vehicle and any other property that was damaged or destroyed
- Pain and suffering- there is no mathematical equation for pain and suffering, but, if you sustained injuries in a DUI wreck, we can make a very strong case for these damages
- Punitive damages- used to deter offenders from committing certain very dangerous and careless acts- like pain and suffering, there is no exact computation for punitive damages, but the awards can be high with DUI accidents
In many cases, the court will impose punitive damages to punish the drunk driver and to further compensate the injured party. Although there is a cap for punitive damages in Georgia, in the case of a drunk driver accident, a victim is often eligible for the full amount.
Drunk driving accidents lead to serious injuries and devastating fatalities each day. Because compensatory and punitive damages are available to victims of drunk driving accidents, it is critical that you understand your full legal rights to compensation after being hit by a drunk driver.
Suing a Bar or Restaurant for a Drunk Driver.
Under Georgia “dram shop” laws, under certain circumstances you can sue a bar, club, or restaurant for serving a drunk driver before they drove and caused an accident. Georgia laws dictate that an establishment can be liable for serving a customer who is either under the age of 21, or who is in a state of noticeable intoxication if they know the customer will soon be driving a vehicle. Obviously, lawsuits against restaurants and establishments for over-serving a customer will require a thorough investigation into the facts and circumstances that occurred while the person was at the bar or restaurant drinking. Pieces of evidence we aim to uncover in investigating these claims include: bar receipts and tabs, surveillance footage from the bar or establishment, eyewitness accounts, and any other relevant statements of evidence we are able to uncover. The restaurant or bar’s past violations for over-serving customers, or serving underage customers can also be very strong evidence in pursuing a dram shop lawsuit after an accident.
Filing a successful claim against a bar that over serves someone who causes an accident takes a thorough and well-orchestrated investigation. We have abundant experience in this area and the resources to get to the bottom of a dram shop case.
Why Consult Our Team at Zeliff | Watson?
Our Team at Zeliff | Watson has over 35 years of combined courtroom experience in courts all around Georgia. We also have a vast network of attorneys and professionals that we work hand in hand with to help ensure your case is handled with the skill and attention it deserves. With so much on the line with DUI-related accidents, you need a team prepared to go the distance if it makes sense in maximizing your recovery- and we are prepared.
Give us a call 24/7 at (404) 642-6333 or use this contact form to initiate a consultation about your accident and we will begin building your best case for recovery and to compensate you as best as possible for your trauma.