Drunk driving kills about 32 people in the United States every day, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Scores of others suffer injuries in these senseless and avoidable tragedies. Driving while drunk consistently ranks close to the top of any list describing the most common causes of traffic crashes. When you or a loved one are involved in a drunk driving accident, you reasonably and understandably think the intoxicated driver is at fault. While this is often accurate, it is not always correct or complete. Sometimes, the drunk driver is not the only one responsible for causing a crash. Contact a drunk driving accident lawyer to understand the case.
Liability for Drunk Driving Accidents Generally
Drunk driving accidents are similar to motor vehicle crashes in that a driver who makes careless or reckless choices behind the wheel may have to pay compensation to injured parties.
Becoming intoxicated and then getting behind the wheel is extremely irresponsible and dangerous, so if drunk drivers get into an auto accident, they will usually be liable to any injured parties.
In some cases, a drunk driver is not the only negligent party. When the crash is considered in full context, there may be individuals who were not driving intoxicated but who nonetheless contributed to the crash.
When more than one person is responsible for causing a crash, it can be trickier to recover fair and appropriate compensation. In many cases, you can hold a negligent party responsible for only that party’s share of the blame.
If others also played a role in bringing about the drunk driving accident, you would need to file a suit or a claim against these people to help ensure you receive the maximum compensation possible.
Other Potential Responsible Parties
All drunk driving accidents are different. In some cases, the intoxicated driver is the only one responsible for causing the crash. In other cases, an investigation reveals others who also helped set events into motion that culminated with your crash.
A Bartender, Server, or Social Host
Some states have laws that impose civil liability for drunk driving accidents on those who continue to serve alcohol to a drunk person. These laws also go by the term “dram shop” laws — a dram shop is a commercial business that sells alcohol, such as a bar or tavern.
These laws discourage employees at a business from continuing to serve alcoholic beverages to someone who is obviously intoxicated. A person or commercial establishment that does so may be liable to any injured parties or the survivors of a decedent whom a drunk driver kills after leaving the establishment.
Some states, such as South Carolina and New Jersey, use a similar legal theory to impose liability on private citizens who host social gatherings and serve alcohol. Where these laws apply, hosts cannot continue to serve alcohol to guests who are visibly intoxicated. If those guests leave the party and cause drunk driving accidents, the driver and the social host can be liable for damages.
Dram shop laws and social hosting laws apply when a person is visibly intoxicated and an employee or host continues to serve the intoxicated individual anyway. If the person is not visibly drunk, or if the drunk person can access alcohol themselves, these laws might not apply.
Passengers in the Drunk Driver’s Car
Suppose the drunk driver is taking their friends home and the friends are also intoxicated. As they are driving along, the inebriated passengers continue to distract the driver through loud yelling, hitting the driver, or attempting to grab the steering wheel.
All of these actions are negligent, and if they contribute to the driver’s inability to focus on the road or safely maneuver the car, then those passengers might also bear part of the blame for the accident.
Injured plaintiffs do not frequently name passengers as defendants in a drunk driving crash in part because of the evidentiary burden that must be satisfied to prove a passenger’s culpability. The passenger’s interference or distraction should be so significant that even a sober driver would have found the conduct distracting.
The Plaintiff in the Case
Although it does not occur frequently, sometimes the plaintiff in a drunk driving accident case is negligent as well. Suppose that you are following a vehicle too closely. The driver in front of you is intoxicated and suddenly slows down in front of you, and a wreck ensues. In this situation, both you and the drunk driver acted carelessly.
Each state handles a plaintiff’s negligence differently. Some states, like Virginia, prohibit a plaintiff who is negligent from recovering any compensation, regardless of how minimal a role that negligence may have played in the accident.
Other states will allow the plaintiff to recover damages as long as the plaintiff is not the primary cause of the crash. In these states, the court will lower any compensation award given to the plaintiff in proportion to the plaintiff’s fault.
Determining Other Parties Responsible for Your Crash
We cannot overemphasize the importance of a thorough investigation in a drunk driving accident case. Focusing exclusively on the drunk driver can lead you to miss evidence that implicates others in your wreck. This singular focus on the driver can lead to a settlement or judgment lower than what you could otherwise obtain.
Where to Turn for Help with Your Drunk Driving Accident Case
After you or a loved one have sustained injuries in a crash with a drunk driver, look to the experienced personal injury lawyers at The Joel Bieber Firm for help and direction. We have successfully obtained compensation for numerous clients and will also devote our efforts and resources to helping you.
Contact our firm and schedule a consultation with us today to discuss your case.