Drunk Driving Accidents: What You Need to Know

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By Marcus Fernandez

It’s no secret that alcohol and driving don’t mix. Despite decades of education and significant progress in reducing this crime, drunk driving is still a serious issue. The Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles reported 5,522 confirmed alcohol-related crashes in 2015 alone. Of those incidents, 1,936 resulted in injury and 460 caused at least one fatality.

What makes drinking and driving particularly heinous, however, is that it’s completely preventable. Injured parties are often innocent motorists, cyclists or even pedestrians who were in the wrong place at the wrong time.

If you’re one of these people, let us first say that we’re truly sorry. Nobody deserves to be put in a position of personal and financial suffering because of someone’s careless actions. If you are the victim, you have recourse to obtain compensation for medical expenses and lost wages that result.

If you are involved in an accident with an impaired driver

A car accident of any kind is disorienting, much less one with a drunk driver. If you are injured in a car accident with a DUI driver, your health and safety are your top concerns. Remain calm and follow these recommended steps:

  • Notify law enforcement immediately and retain a copy of your accident report.
  • Seek medical assistance even if your injuries are not immediately apparent. It can often take hours or days to feel the lasting effects of an automobile accident.
  • Take photographs of the accident scene and of your injuries. They will be helpful for your case later.
  • Document your medical care as well as any related expenses, such as time or travel. Also, make note of any issues related to your recovery.
  • Talk to an experienced Tampa attorney to protect your rights.

Understanding Criminal and Civil Lawsuits in Drunk Driving Accident Cases

The term “lawsuit” is a generic word for suing an offending party, but there’s much more to it. There are two major categories to consider: criminal lawsuits and civil lawsuits.

In a criminal case, the State files suit against the defendant, seeking legal punishment. In a drunk driving case, this usually involves fines, incarceration or both. Aside from testifying as a witness, victims have no control over the proceedings.

More importantly, it’s unlikely that you’ll receive any monetary compensation unless ordered by a judge. You can, however, bring a civil lawsuit against the defendant, even if he or she is acquitted of the crime.

In a civil suit, winning or losing depends on whether the plaintiff (you) can prove that the defendant’s actions contributed to, or directly caused, damage. Damage includes harm to your person, your property, or monetary loss. Winning your case will not result in jail time or other criminal punishments for the defendant.

Why You Need a Drunk Driving Accident Attorney

One of the biggest mistakes an individual can make following a drunk driving accident is to file a lawsuit without the help of an attorney. Starting proceedings on your own slows down the legal process, increasing the time it will take to receive compensation – if you even win. Attempting such a complex task with no prior expertise will dramatically reduce the chances of success.

If you’re concerned about legal fees, it’s important to know that most personal injury lawyers, like the experienced legal team at Kinney, Fernandez & Boire, work on contingency. An attorney that works on contingency will not require payment up front. In addition, they will not send you an invoice if you lose the case. If you win, the settlement will be used to pay any legal costs and a portion will be paid to your attorney.

Accidents with Uninsured or Underinsured Drivers

Florida law requires drivers to carry both personal injury protection (PIP) and property damage liability (PDL) insurance. Still, some drivers may be hitting the roads uninsured or underinsured. A 2014 Insurance Research Council report found that an estimated 3.2 million uninsured drivers in Florida. The state ranks as the second highest for uninsured motorists in the U.S.  

If the drunk driver in your car accident case falls into either of these categories, you can still potentially be compensated. Claims against an uninsured or underinsured driver are filed through Florida’s Bureau of Motorist Compliance.

Your Rights as a Drunk Driving Victim

If you or a loved one are victims of a drunk driver in Florida, you have the right to compensation. In addition, you have certain fundamental rights guaranteed by the Article 1 Section 16 of the Florida Constitutional Amendment.

Right to compensation

While a successful lawsuit can provide significant monetary compensation, these cases also take time. For victims, this is often time that you don’t have when you need money to cover bills. Fortunately, in the interim, you may be eligible for Florida’s Victim Compensation Program. This program provides emergency funds to help victims cover expenses for things like:

  • Lost wages
  • Medical treatment expenses
  • Mental health services
  • Funeral expenses
  • Property loss

Additionally, if a loved one has died as a result of a drunk driver, you may be eligible to receive compensation for loss of financial support or funeral expenses.

Right to be informed

Article 1 also states that crime victims, including drunk driving, have the right to be kept up to date on the criminal proceedings. If you’re the next of kin to a person killed by an impaired driver, those rights also apply to you.

Right to be present

Should you decide to do so, the Florida Constitutional Amendment allows you to be present at any point during the trial. Of course, this isn’t mandatory.

Right to be heard

You also have the right to speak during certain points of the criminal proceedings. For example, you can address the accused directly. You can also choose to make a statement regarding how the impaired driver affected you or your loved one.

Individuals involved in a drunk driving accident should speak with an experienced Tampa Bay auto accident attorney. The attorneys at Kinney, Fernandez & Boire, P.A. will provide you with a complimentary case evaluation to determine your legal options.