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Drunk driving wrecks lives every week in Virginia and North Carolina. According to the Virginia Highway Safety Office, there were 7,591 alcohol-related crashes in the Commonwealth in 2015. Sadly, 247 of these were fatal auto accidents. Alcohol was a factor in 32 percent of all fatal crashes in Virginia in 2015. DUI crashes caused 4,917 injuries in the state, which was 7.6 percent of all traffic injuries.

DUI infographic
Image by Janaye

Many of the alcohol-related crashes occur in the Hampton Roads cities where we have offices and client meeting locations. In 2015, Virginia saw 502 alcohol-related crashes, which left eight people dead and 261 injured. This is the highest number of these types of crashes in the state of Virginia. In Norfolk, there were 199 alcohol-linked crashes which left seven people dead and 158 hurt. In Newport News, 155 DUI crashes left nine people dead and 121 injured.

Surprisingly, national statistics from the United States Census Bureau show that 37% of fatal car accidents were caused by people with a BAC (Blood Alcohol Concentration) between .01% and .07%, while people with a BAC of .08% – the legal limit – were responsible for 32% percent of the fatalities. This information indicates that even when you drive at or below the legal BAC limit, you significantly increase your risk of causing a car crash and death to other motorists. If you were in a wreck with an intoxicated motorist, speak with a Virginia drunk driving accident lawyer.

Damages Recovered in DUI Accidents

If you have been seriously injured by a drunk driver, you may be facing a financially crippling situation apart from your physical hardship. Our experienced Virginia DUI accident attorneys can help you pursue compensation from the drunk driver who caused your crash, seeking damages for:

  • Medical bills
  • Lost income
  • Lost ability to work
  • Physical and emotional pain and suffering
  • Permanent injury

If your loved one was killed in a drunk driving accident, you may find yourself totally unable to process the devastating impact their loss is having and will have on the rest of your life. Our attorneys can help you pursue a wrongful death case to recover for the damages provided by Virginia law, including loss of companionship, funeral expenses, loss of your loved one’s income and services to your family, loss of their advice, and other losses.

The state of Virginia also allows drunk driving victims to recover punitive damages under special circumstances. If the drunk driver refused to take a BAC test, or if they had a BAC of .15% or above, punitive damages can be factored into your case to punish the driver for their willfully reckless actions.

It is not always easy to obtain these additional damages, but our attorneys have been working with drunk driving victims for decades. Under Virginia code, the at-fault driver must have shown a “conscious disregard for the rights of others,” to be hit by punitive damages.

Who Are The Victims of Drunk Drivers?

  1. Other Drivers and Passengers. Often people who are in other vehicles are the innocent victims of drunk drivers who can swerve across lanes, drive erratically or fail to stop at intersections.
  2. Passengers in the DUI Driver’s Car. Passengers who are hurt in a DUI crash may have grounds to make a claim against the driver’s insurance policy. The families of those who are killed may file a wrongful death case. Claims may be impacted if a passenger knew or suspected the driver was drunk on getting into the car.
  3. Pedestrians or Cyclists. Drunk drivers are more likely to veer onto sidewalks and hit walkers or fail to notice cyclists on the road.
  4. Road Workers. Highway workers in work zones are at particular risk from drunk drivers. One of our clients recovered $2.6 million when he lost both of his legs in a wreck with a drunk driver in a work zone.

Drugged Driving in Virginia

Driving under the influence of drugs can be as dangerous as being under the influence of alcohol behind the wheel. It’s also prohibited. The Code of Virginia says it’s unlawful to drive “under the influence of any narcotic drug or any other self-administered intoxicant or drug of whatsoever nature.” The code sets out the level of drugs including methamphetamine and cocaine that will trigger an arrest if they are found in a driver’s bloodstream. Some drivers who are arrested for DUIs have a combination of alcohol and drugs in their bloodstream.

Virginia has a “zero tolerance” prohibition on specific drugs which means a driver may be arrested if a police officer has a reasonable suspicion that a certain amount of the drug was in the driver’s body while he or she was at the wheel.

How Does an Attorney Prove Fault in Drunk Driving Accidents?

Unlike rear-end collisions and some other motor vehicle crashes, drunk driving accidents often require expert toxicologists. If you were injured by a drunk driver, it may be clearly that driver’s fault, but in order to prove the driver’s BAC at the time of the wreck, specialized evidence is needed.

Also, in the Commonwealth of Virginia, if you are found to be even 1% responsible for your accident, you are barred from seeking compensation through a personal injury lawsuit. For this reason, having an experienced DUI accident attorney on your side can make all the difference – even in the seemingly black-and-white case of a drunk driving accident.

What Should I Do After an Accident with a Drunk Driver?

The steps you take after a collision with a drunk driver can impact your health as well as your possible injury claim. Your health and safety should be your first priority in this situation, and contacting the police is another crucial step. This is because the law requires motorists involved in an injury accident to notify the police and remain at the scene of the accident.

If your injuries are severe, seeking emergency medical treatment should be your top priority. In fact, you should seek medical treatment as soon as possible even when your injuries seem minor.

In the days and weeks following your accident, it is vital that you follow your doctor’s advice. Keeping up with your care not only improves your physical condition, it could also strengthen your personal injury claim. Out of all the steps you take after a crash with a drunk driver, contacting an experienced attorney is one of the most important. A Virginia lawyer could advise you on how to proceed with an injury claim and recover the compensation you need from a drunk driver.

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.

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