Drunk driving crashes: Is the intoxicated driver always liable? | The Dickerson & Smith Law Group
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Drunk driving crashes: Is the intoxicated driver always liable?

You might think -- if you were injured in a motor vehicle accident caused by a drunk driver -- that the intoxicated driver should be liable to pay for your medical care. However, although it's likely that this will the case, personal injury lawsuits following a DUI crash are more complicated than this.

Let's take a look at the factors that need to be present in order for an injured person to hold another driver financially liable following an accident:

  • Duty: The at-fault driver needs to have had a duty to follow the rules of the road, yield to others when appropriate, avoid hazards and respect the safety of other people. In the case of a drunk driver, the duty would have been to follow the law and respect others' safety by refraining from drinking and driving.
  • Breach of duty: The at-fault driver needs to have breached the above-referenced duty that he or she held. In other words, he or she drove drunk.
  • Cause in fact: The violation of the duty, or the drunk driving, needs to have caused the actual injuries. For example, cause in fact would not be entirely clear and straightforward if the drunk driving caused the crash, but the injuries were caused by a malfunctioning airbag in the injured party's vehicle.
  • Proximate cause: The severity of damages needs to be in the scope of what someone could have expected as a potential consequence of driving drunk. For example, a drunk driver causing a five-car pile-up and multiple catastrophic injuries could potentially be expected. On the other hand, a drunk driver colliding with a building and causing a fire that killed hundreds of people is likely outside the scope of proximate cause.
  • Damages: Finally, actual damages need to have occurred -- usually due to the costs associated with medical care, property damage, lost income, pain and suffering and other damages.

During a personal injury claim relating to a drunk driving accident, the defense may try to argue that one of the above five points was not present in a particular crash. As such, plaintiffs need to be prepared to prove each of the above five points clearly when presenting their claims for damages.

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