Drunk driving accidents are an all too common occurrence in Georgia. According to Georgia’s MADD Chapter, roughly 300 people are killed each year in Georgia as a result of drunk driving accidents, and many more are injured. If you find yourself in a drunk driving accident, you will likely be wondering where to turn to next. Should you sue the drunk driver? What damages are the drunk driver and his or her insurance company responsible for paying? What about the bar or restaurant that served alcohol to the drunk driver—can it be held responsible? These are all questions that should be answered in a consultation with a Georgia personal injury attorney. Here is some basic information you should know about drunk driving accidents.
What Damages Are Available in a Drunk Driving Accident?
In any personal injury case, the person who caused harm is responsible for paying your damages. Car accidents in general, and drunk driving accidents in particular, are no different. Damages are normally divided into two broad categories: economic and noneconomic. Economic damages include damages that are capable of an economic measurement, such as medical bills, lost wages, and out of pocket expenses. Noneconomic damages include pain and suffering, mental and emotional distress, permanent disfigurement, and diminished capacity to labor.
In addition to these damages, you may be entitled to punitive damages following a Georgia DUI accident. Unlike other damages that are designed to compensate an injured person, punitive damages are designed to punish and deter the wrongdoer. Under Georgia law, punitive damages are available if it is “proven by clear and convincing evidence that the defendant's actions showed willful misconduct, malice, fraud, wantonness, oppression, or that entire want of care which would raise the presumption of conscious indifference to consequence.” While many ordinary negligence cases do not justify a punitive damages award, DUI accidents are different. In many DUI cases, an experienced personal injury attorney can prove that the DUI driver should be punished and that punitive damages are appropriate.
Is the drunk driver’s insurance company responsible for paying punitive damages? In Georgia, insurance policies are normally presumed to cover punitive damages, unless there is a clear exclusion that says punitive damages are excluded under the policy. So what does this mean for your accident case? It means that the drunk driver’s insurance company may be on the hook for punitive damages. Naturally, this increases the value of a DUI accident case. However, you should known that uninsured motorist policies do not cover punitive damages. In other words, while the drunk driver’s insurance may be on the hook for punitive damages, you cannot collect punitive damages from your own uninsured motorist coverage.
Even in cases where the drunk driver’s insurance policy excludes punitive damages, the cases are normally worth more. This is because of the aggravated nature of the DUI driver’s conduct. Juries are comprised of regular people, and no rational person likes drunk drivers. They are a danger to the community. When faced with a drunk driving accident, juries normally give more money.
Can a Bar or Restaurant Be Held Liable for Serving Alcohol to the Drunk Driver?
Georgia has what is known as a Dram Shop statute. Georgia’s Dram Shop law states that “a person who willfully, knowingly, and unlawfully sells, furnishes, or serves alcoholic beverages to a person who is not of lawful drinking age, knowing that such person will soon be driving a motor vehicle, or who knowingly sells, furnishes, or serves alcoholic beverages to a person who is in a state of noticeable intoxication, knowing that such person will soon be driving a motor vehicle, may become liable for injury or damage caused by or resulting from the intoxication of such minor or person when the sale, furnishing, or serving is the proximate cause of such injury or damage.”
What does this statute mean in ordinary language? It means that a restaurant or bar, or even a private individual, may be held liable for a DUI accident if it serves alcohol to an underage person or a noticeably intoxicated person if they knew, or should have known, the person consuming the alcohol would be driving soon.
Dram Shop cases are not easy. Restaurants and bars, as well as their insurance companies, frequently fight attempts to hold them liable for DUI accidents. They blame the DUI driver for the accident and claim the drunk driver is solely responsible for the collision. They also argue that they did not serve their customer when they were noticeably intoxicated, nor did they know the customer would be driving soon. Although Dram Shop cases are difficult, they can be won with the right attorney on your side.
What is a DUI Accident Worth?
As with any personal injury case, one of the main driving forces behind the value of a DUI case is the amount of the damages. This starts with analyzing the nature and severity of your injuries, the amount of your medical expenses, and your lost wages. With respect to punitive damages, the egregiousness of the drunk driver’s conduct is directly tied to the value of these damages. The more egregious the misconduct is, the higher the value of the punitive damages claim.
In addition to damages, another important question the needs to be answered is the ability of the wrongdoer to pay for your damages, whether it be through insurance or his or her own financial assets. In cases where there is little to no liability insurance, you may be entitled to coverage under your own uninsured motorist policy. As a result, the value of your damages is just one component of the overall value of your case because you could have extremely high damages but little or no available insurance or assets to pay for those damages.
If you have been injured in a DUI accident in Georgia, you should speak with a personal injury attorney as soon as possible. The experienced Atlanta personal injury attorneys at The Champion Firm, P.C. have experience representing DUI victims. Call The Champion Firm, P.C. today for a free consultation with an Atlanta personal injury lawyer.