Bringing Lawsuits Against Drunk Drivers in Virginia
Despite the increasingly harsh criminal penalties for drunk driving, alcohol continues to be a major contributing cause of car crashes throughout Virginia. According to the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles, there were an average of 12 alcohol-related car accidents a day that resulted in injury across Virginia in 2017. Equally as concerning, the average blood alcohol concentration of tested drunk drivers was 0.145 percent, almost twice the legal limit. People injured by a drunk driver are faced with countless questions about bringing lawsuits against drunk drivers following the accident and Cooper Hurley Injury Lawyers is happy to help find the answers you need.
What Should I Do If I Was Hurt By A Drunk Driver?
The first thing you should always do if you have been hurt in a car accident in Virginia Beach, Norfolk, Chesapeake, Hampton or elsewhere in Virginia is to seek the appropriate medical care. You may not immediately feel pain after an accident even if you have been injured. It is important that you get yourself evaluated by emergency medical personnel at the scene and receive a proper evaluation by an emergency room doctor or your primary care physician.
At other times, the trauma caused by a drunk driver is immediately apparent. If you have suffered serious injuries, it is vital that you maintain a strict course of care with your medical specialists. It is not uncommon to require multiple visits to an orthopedist or neurologist following a traumatic accident. Look after your medical needs before considering lawsuits against a drunk driver.
What Compensation Can I Get From A Drunk Driver Who Hurt Me?
If you have been hurt by a drunk driver, you can potentially seek two types of compensation. The first type is called “compensatory damages”. As part of your claim for compensatory damages, you can ask for reimbursement of your medical bills (regardless of whether the bills were paid by health insurance), any lost wages from work, and general compensation for your pain, suffering, mental anguish, and inconvenience. Compensatory damages can be awarded in any case in which a drunk driver has injured you.
The second type of compensation you can potentially seek from a drunk driver is punitive damages. Punitive damages are designed to punish a defendant for his reckless conduct and to deter others in the community from engaging in similar behavior. Punitive damages can only be awarded in certain drunk driving cases. The most notable situation in which punitive damages may be awarded against a drunk driver is if the defendant’s blood alcohol concentration registered 0.15 percent or higher following the crash. In Virginia, the maximum amount that may be awarded in punitive damages is $350,000.00.
Can I Still Sue If The Drunk Driver Refused To Take A Breathalyzer Test?
Yes, you can still sue a drunk driver if he or she has refused a breathalyzer. Even if there is no recorded level of the drunk driver’s blood alcohol concentration, Virginia law allows you to seek punitive damages. Virginia Code § 8.01-44.5 authorizes an injured party to seek punitive damages if an individual has unreasonably refused to submit to a breath or blood test. It also covers a situation in which other evidence shows that the defendant was intoxicated at the time of the accident, that the defendant knew or should have known that his ability to operate a motor vehicle was impaired and that his intoxication was, at least in part, a cause of the accident.
Your ability to seek punitive damages remains even if the drunk driver is not convicted of unreasonable refusal of a blood or breath test in traffic court. Prosecutors often offer plea agreements to DUI defendants. These plea agreements may contain language indicating that the prosecutor will drop the charge of unreasonable refusal in exchange for the defendant pleading guilty to DUI. Such a plea agreement has no effect on your lawsuit. You can still present evidence during your lawsuit that the defendant unreasonably refused a breath or blood test and the fact that the charge of unreasonable refusal was dismissed in traffic court is inadmissible in your personal injury case.
What If The Drunk Driver Does Not Have Any Money To Compensate Me?
Even though the drunk driver has engaged in unlawful conduct, his or her automobile insurance is still responsible to pay your damages. The responsibility of an automobile insurance company to compensate you even extends to an award of punitive damages. In some cases, the drunk driver may not carry high enough insurance limits, or any insurance at all, to fully compensate you. In these situations, you may be entitled to request that your own automobile insurance financially contributes to your compensation. If you are forced to use your own automobile insurance after being hurt by a drunk driver, your insurance company is not allowed to raise your premiums or cancel your coverage.
Should I Immediately Contact A Lawyer After Being Hurt By A Drunk Driver In Virginia?
After receiving any emergency medical care you need from a DUI crash, it is important that you quickly contact a lawyer. When lawsuits against drunk drivers in Virginia are delayed, it becomes more difficult to compile evidence.
Personal injury cases involving drunk drivers require a different course of investigation than other types of car accidents. Given the increased police involvement following a drunk driving accident, there are several pieces of important evidence that can be obtained. These can be essential to your case.
Most police officers in Hampton Roads are now equipped with body cameras which record the officers’ interaction with the drunk driver including the administration of field sobriety tests, breathalyzer results or drunken behavior of the part of the intoxicated driver. However, if the proper steps are not taken to preserve these crucial items of evidence, they may be destroyed at the conclusion of any criminal proceeding. Additionally, it is vital that arrangements are made to have a court reporter present at all court hearings for the drunk driver. The drunk driver may admit guilt or discuss his or her alcohol consumption during the court hearing and the transcript can be used to help pursue your personal injury claim.
Should I Hire an Injury Lawyer for a Claim Against a Drunk Driver in Virginia?
If you or a loved one has been seriously injured by a drunk driver it makes sense to consult with an injury lawyer. Bringing lawsuits against drunk drivers in Virginia is a complicated process. If you don’t hire a lawyer, the insurance company could offer you less than you deserve and the drunk driver responsible for the crash may not be punished. Contact our Virginia drunk driving injury lawyers today for a free consultation at (757) 455-0077.